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Rocky’s High-Altitude Solar Array Brings Unique Challenges For Sustainability

IPS / Xanterra Travel
Logan Tierney is an installer for Independent Power Systems (IPS) of Boulder, CO

The Trail Ridge Store in Rocky Mountain National Park is now a little greener. As of July, the high-elevation gift shop is fully powered by a new solar array.

The array, designed by Independent Power Systems, will generate enough power to offset two diesel power generators currently used by the National Parks Service, though they will remain operational as a backup. It’s estimated the solar array will save the NPS 5,500 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

Building an array at 12,000 feet above sea level presents a lot of challenges – like extended periods of below-freezing temperatures and snow drifts as high as 20 feet. But it’s not all bad.

John Hannon, a spokesperson for the park, says the array’s altitude gives it some unique advantages.

Credit Kevin Crosby / Xanterra Travel
Xanterra Travel
The new solar array at Rocky Mountain National Park at the Trail Ridge Store

“It’s in a good spot to get the most sun it can,” said Hannon. “As far as we know there shouldn’t be any environmental impact from the system, that’s barring something that we don’t know or is unforeseen.”

Environmental challenges and concerns weren’t the only obstacles to designing and building the array.

Kevin Crosby is the park’s sustainability manager for Xanterra Travel Collection, a Colorado-based travel company and park concessioner who financed the project. He says they were conscious to protect the view of the surrounding area.

“The south facing roof, which is the most advantageous for the solar project, is facing away from the parking facility, and there’s actually very little view of that from any populated areas,” he said.

A monitor in Trail Ridge Store provides real-time energy usage and generation data for the solar array.