GE Fitness Center
Job Name: GE Fitness Center – Solar Water Heater
Scope of Work: Design-Build
Location: Pewaukee, WI
The following is a summary of equipment installed at this facility:
- 16 Solar Skies SS-40 panels with a total area of 637.22 ft2
- 2 260-gal storage tanks
- HTP drain-back tank
- Solar controls made by IMC Instruments
GE Healthcare is one of the most environmentally conscious employers in southeast Wisconsin. Through the “ecomagination” initiative, GE is actively pursuing innovative and profitable solutions to environmental problems. Since 2004, the program has resulted in a greater than 22% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of a 25% decrease by 2015. GE has also reduced water usage by over 30% since 2006, surpassing the original goal of a 20% reduction by 2012.
In order to reduce energy usage at their US headquarters in Waukesha, Wisconsin, GE Healthcare’s Global Facilities Manager, Mark Colannanni, initiated a program to augment the employee fitness center’s gas-fired water heaters with a solar hot water system. GE Healthcare’s Project Engineer, Chris Jurik, contracted with Jim Leuzinger of Pewaukee-based TOTAL Mechanical and Aaron Adler of Milwaukee-based Hot Water Products to design and install the system.
Engineers from TOTAL Mechanical designed the system and determined the best location for the solar panels, hot water piping, controls, and related equipment. Representatives from Hot Water Products assisted with the site evaluation, RetScreen software simulation, conceptual design, product procurement and delivery. Mike Westfahl, a Journeyman plumber from TOTAL Mechanical, then installed the system and filled it with Dowfrost, a propylene glycol-based heat transfer fluid that contains food-grade corrosion inhibitors. The system was leak-tested, insulated, valve-tagged, and labeled prior to bringing it on-line.
The system consists of 16 Solar Skies SS-40 panels with a total area of 637.22 ft2, two 260-gal storage tanks, an HTP drain-back tank, and solar controls made by IMC Instruments. It is capable of generating up to 39 kilowatts of energy, which is equal to 116,100 BTU – enough to provide hot water to as many as three homes.
It may seem that a solar water heater would not be as effective in Wisconsin as it would be in a warmer, sunnier climate. However, Wisconsin has as many sunny days as southern Texas, and the efficiency of a solar water heater is not significantly affected by the ambient air temperature. GE’s solar array faces south, at an angle of 43 degrees from horizontal. This maximizes the amount of direct sunlight captured during the winter, when the sun is at its lowest in the sky. In the summer, the energy lost to indirect sun exposure is made up for by the longer periods of daylight.
Benefit to GE Healthcare:
The system is expected to contribute between 20% and 100% of the fitness center’s hot water, with an annual average of 48%. By reducing GE’s dependence on non-renewable energy, the system also insulates GE against rising fossil fuel costs. With an anticipated lifespan of at least 30 years, the system will ultimately save GE nearly $180,000. Over that period, it will have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 281 tons, which is the equivalent of 648 barrels of crude oil. In addition to the savings realized by reducing natural gas consumption, the solar hot water system also reduces the maintenance requirements of the existing natural gas water heaters. Since the solar system is able to reduce demand on the gas burners, the burners will require less frequent maintenance, and should last longer than if they were to continue as the only source of hot water for the facility.