Apex Center Powers Up Cost-Saving Solar Thermal Energy System

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In early October 2010, Apex Center staff flipped the “on” switch of an extensive solar thermal energy collection system atop the 168,500 square foot recreation center at 13150 W. 72nd Avenue in Arvada.

The project is unique for two reasons— its size and its innovative use of collaborating agencies and volunteers to save money.

The system took about five months to install, a process overseen by Justin Howe, Apex Center Building Engineer. He and the Apex PRD staff combined knowledge, skill, endurance and an innovative attitude to bring the project in at a reduced cost. The task also got an assist from community volunteers, noted APRD Board President Jim Whitfield. “We and the local community are indebted to the volunteers from our local LDS church that contributed many hours, their time and hard work to help expedite the completion of the project.” The use of volunteers’ time probably saved the district $400-$500,000 in labor costs, said Howe.

The structure is physically enormous and includes 291 collectors, thousands of concrete blocks to anchor the frames, 9000 glass tubes and 3 1/2 miles of pipe. Boulder-based Lumos Solar manufactured the heat pipe collectors, a reliable, dependable and durable technology first used in space exploration. It’s fairly simple: the sun heats the fluid in the pipe collectors, which in turn heats the water in the boilers.

“This installation will reduce the center’s heating cost by at least 30%,” said Mike Miles, Executive Director of Apex Park and Recreation District. Until now, natural gas powered the boilers that provide heat for everything from the aquatics area to the Zambonis in the ice arena…and a lot in between.

Since each of the 291 collectors is capable of generating 60,000 BTUs per day, the energy savings will add up quickly. In addition to the 30% and more in annual energy costs, the installation will pay for itself in less than four years. The project will also reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and support the local economy.

The Colorado Carbon Fund, a division of the Governor’s Energy Office, provided funding for this system as part of an effort to support statewide community-based projects that promote clean technologies. In partnership with The Climate Trust, The Colorado Carbon Fund identified and selected the Apex Center project as one that will result in significant greenhouse gas reductions, cost savings, and independence from fossil fuels. The Colorado Carbon Fund was able to support this project thanks to the generous donations from close to 1,000 individuals and organizations across the state.

The solar project is the latest, and one of the largest, energy-saving endeavors by Apex Park and Recreation District. During the past four years, the district has invested $80,000 in energy efficiency for a payback of nearly $450,000 in cost savings. Mr. Whitfield states, “We feel this project is a great example of local government working for its community. With the help of great staff, community volunteers, and leadership sustainable projects delivered like this one are a great example of fiscal and environmental responsibility. It’s a component of our continual mission to provide the best recreational experience to our community while reducing our effect on the environment. Now that we have completed this phase we would like to serve as a resource to any other governmental entities considering a similar implementation.”