The City of Carlsbad has improved Alga Norte Community Park’s “green” profile by installing an array of solar photovoltaic panels in the parking lot that will generate most of the park’s electrical needs and reduce greenhouse gases for many years to come.
One-year-old Alga Norte Community Park was already recognized as an example of energy efficiency among municipal parks, which led to the park’s being named a 2014 “Project of the Year” by the San Diego/Imperial Chapter of American Public Works Association. The park has also been given an Award of Excellence by the California Parks and Recreation Society.
When the city decided to build the 32-acre park, located at Poinsettia Lane and Alicante Road just east of El Camino Real, staff approached the project with the goal of making it as environmentally sustainable as possible. City officials and park designers combed through the park’s plans and reduced its overall energy demand by 30 percent. Staff then performed a feasibility study on installing a solar energy system and determined that it would save energy and be economical.
The 720 solar panels, which cover two rows of Alga Norte’s parking lot and provide shade for park visitors, are expected to generate about 360,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a year, which is enough to power about 55 average San Diego homes. It also will cut carbon dioxide output by approximately 6,838 tons over a 25-year period, which is the equivalent of cutting the emissions of automobiles driving 15 million miles.
“This system will give us the ability to watch in real time our energy consumption compared to our production,” said City of Carlsbad Civic Projects Manager Patrick McGarry. “That will give us an opportunity to see how much energy the panels are producing and when we’re spiking electric power, allowing us to make decisions to reduce consumption.”
The park complex includes Alga Norte Aquatic Center, which encompasses a 56-meter Olympic-size competition pool, a 25-yard, 12-lane instructional pool, a 10-by-25-foot warm water spa for adults and a “splash pad” play area for children. Keeping the aquatic center’s water clean and warm requires a lot of energy, and numerous design features minimize demand, such as a solar thermal heating system that preheats pool water before it enters high-efficiency heaters and pump motors that circulate water.
Because sun power isn’t consistent, there will be times when the panels don’t generate enough electricity to meet demand, and other times when they generate more than is needed. When the panels generate an oversupply, the electricity will go onto the electrical grid, and San Diego Gas & Electric, the region’s electric utility, will give the city a credit for the surplus.
Energy analysts estimate that the photovoltaic system will have paid for itself after 11 years, and will begin providing a net gain to the city in its 12th year of operation, saving City of Carlsbad taxpayers about $66,000 annually in energy costs. The solar panels have a warranty period of 25 years and an estimated lifespan of 30 years.
The Alga Norte park complex offers many other recreational features, including:
Three lighted multipurpose ball fields with a concession stand.
One lighted full basketball court and one half court.
A lighted skate park for beginner and experienced skateboarders.
An off-leash dog park divided into areas for larger and smaller dogs, including obstacle course-type play equipment.
Shaded playground with 100 percent universally accessible play equipment.
Shaded picnic areas with barbeques.
The city broke ground on the 32-acre complex in southeastern Carlsbad in June 2012 and opened the park to residents in December 2013. Workers began installing the solar panels in October of last year. Testing ended on Jan. 19, 2015, and the panels were hooked up to the grid on Jan. 30.
The solar project cost $975,000 to install. A state of California rebate of $254,467 is reducing the final project cost to about $720,000.
The city has installed many energy-saving devices during the past several years to enhance environmental sustainability and reduce greenhouse gases. Projects include installing energy-efficient lighting on streets and at parks throughout the city, and installing a hydroelectric generator on a high-pressure pipe at Maerkle Reservoir. The city recently issued a request for proposals to install a solar photovoltaic system at the Safety Training Center on Orion Way.