Off Grid Power for Yellowstone

Lamar Buffalo Ranch

When visiting National Parks we expect to enjoy the quiet beauty they offer.  At some National Park facilities, however,  electricity is is not available from the grid and noisy, polluting, fossil-fuel powered generators are used.  This just doesn’t fit well with the ethos of the National Park System.

Off Grid at Lamar

Corral at Lamar Buffalo RanchThe Lamar Buffalo Ranch in Yellowstone National Park is one example.  It is 10 miles from the nearest power line.  It had a solar energy system installed in 1996 and expanded in 2005.  For those of you into the details, the original system consisted of a 24V/7 kW PV array with 12 kW generators, a 4800 amp hour battery bank and 8 kW inverters. In 2005, the solar array was doubled for a total of 14 kW and the batteries doubled to 9600 amp hours of storage. A propane generator system provided backup.  The system had reached the end of its useful life, so the Park Service decided to see if they could do better.

They replaced the old system starting with a new set of 180 250-watt solar panels (45 kw total), operating at 600 volts, that charge a series of 208 used batteries from Hybrid Camry cars.  The batteries could no longer be used in the cars due to the demand that is required of them in that application.  Nonetheless, they have plenty of life left (estimated at 20 years or more) when used with a solar system, so Toyota donated them to the project.   As batteries are replaced in Camry’s, Toyota will have millions of these batteries available.

The battery array can be fully charged in 12 hours and is expected to be able to power the facility for two to three days if sunshine is lacking.  Instead of propane,  the backup system is a micro-hydro power plant (4.5 kw).  The combination will provide enough electricity to light and heat all three residences and 16 small cabins at the facility without fossil fuels.  There is considerably more work to be done, but the project is well on its way.

Lamar Buffalo Ranch

The Benefits to Recreation

With facilities like this, a long way from power lines, recreationists have a base deeper in the wild country that will ultimately allow more people to get farther into the wilderness for the benefits it provides.  As an example, Lamar Buffalo Ranch, is a field campus for the Yellowstone Association, home to the Park Service’s youth education program, Expedition: Yellowstone!. Park rangers reside there year round, and the corrals and historic barn are a base for backcountry adventure.

There are many other facilities across the country and around the world that could benefit from not only getting off the grid, but also getting away from fossil fuels to bring noise and air pollution levels down.

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