Talks

How National Parks use renewables

 By Anna Volpicelli

National parks are perfect escapes for taking time off from the daily routine. For a long vacation or just for a weekend, you can enjoy miles of hiking trails, breathtaking views and an immersive experience exploring the historic towns and locations nestled in these natural reserves…

To protect visitors and the landscape, these unrefined beauties around the world are adopting new green energy solutions to preserve the quality of the land and to work toward functioning as a self-sufficient ecosystem. From the use of solar panels and photovoltaics to LED and propane-powered vehicles, here is a round-up of six worldwide national parks that are developing projects to help the planet.

Parco Nazionale del Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni – Campania

Declared World Heritage by UNESCO and located in the province of Salerno, Campania, Parco Nazionale del Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni has plans to become 100% energy-efficient. Thanks to an ambitious project made possible by the Park Authority in collaboration with ENEA and Università di Salerno, the “New Energy Park Angelo Vassallo” aims to use renewables throughout the park’s 80 cities. The project was named in honor of Angelo Vassallo, the mayor of Pollica who was killed in 2010. Many cities are already adopting LED for their street lights, including the small town of Torraca, known as the LED city of Italy. Perched on the Gulf of Policastro, the town was internationally recognized for its innovation in the public lighting sector, and also won the Local Authority Award for Kyoto 2007. In more than 10 years, the energy savings achieved by this project have been impressive. According to the Park Authority, there has been 65% less of energy consumption, a 50% reduction in maintenance costs and a 90% reduction in light pollution.
The example of Torraca has been emulated by many other towns, including Castelnuovo Cilento, Camerota and Agropoli. At Sassano, one of the park’s villages, the elementary school, its city hall and a handful of public buildings now utilize solar panels for heating. The use of hydroelectric power is another step toward the complete energy-efficiency program. Along the Bussento River, in the small and historic town of Morigerati, one of the most famous hydroelectric power stations in the area uses the river’s water and the outflows of the Rio Casaletto and Sciarapolamo streams. The two installed generation groups boast power of 30 MW and a production capacity of approximately 100 GWh / year.
The Park Authority has also implemented a sustainable mobility plan to counteract the affects of the area’s carbon emissions. The 80 municipalities will be equipped with recharging stations for electric vehicle, as well as zero-emission public transport vehicles that will connect locations within the park.

Sila National Park – Calabria

Pioneer of the energy-efficiency program in Italy, the Sila National Park was one of five parks in Europe to participate in the BioEUparks project. This initiative was designed to build a model of energy production from renewable sources through the creation of a supply chain of biomass that culls from the forests and private agricultural remains present in the park areas. The Calabrian park has been deeply involved in the project since its inception in 2012; it even developed a bidding process for the supply of pellet boilers used toward the production of heat. This ensures all the buildings within the park are heated by the biomass boiler. To keep the program alive and dynamic, park management also launched GAS, a solidarity buying group program. All companies and institutions interested in the project can request the certified pellets and use them as a source of heat with a high reduction in costs.

 

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Sila National Park - Lake Cecita (Silvia Álvarez Adalia)

Zion National Park – Utah

Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the United States, both for its breathless landscape and its commitment to sustainability. The Visitor Center, which opened in 2000, includes a series of award-winning environment-friendly features, such as cooling towers, Trombe walls, photovoltaic panels, operable windows, extra insulation and a small building footprint.

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Zion Canyon at sunset in Zion National Park as seen from Angels Landing looking south (wikipedia, Diliff)

The innovative Trombe walls, for instance, located on the southern side of the building, store heat from the sun that has accumulated between the wall and the glass. The disruptive system then catches the heat and radiates it long after the sun has gone down, helping keep the building warm, especially in winter months.
The park’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has also been designed as an exemplary model of green, cost-effective energy. It includes partial earth sheltering, thermal massing, light-colored roofing, solar panels and a solar hot water heater. It incorporates a ground-source heat pump, solar tubes, light shelves, clerestories, light sensors, efficient ventilation systems and sustainable furnishings. According to the park’s website, the enhancements have resulted in a 70% reduction in energy consumption and 51% cost savings over a comparably-sized standard building.
The park also launched a recycling project to reduce waste and consumption. The renovation of its historic Nature Center included a tankless water heater, efficient lighting and increased insulation. These features, as well as sustainable furnishing and solar tubes, have made the spaces safer and more attractive.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee/North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another useful model for climate-friendly distinction within the U.S. National Park Service. Among its many initiatives is a series of strategies to reduce carbon emissions, including a program that replaced inefficient fluorescent and incandescent lighting with T5 fluorescents in all the lounge and relaxation stations, such as picnic and campground areas. The park has adopted six propane-powered Ford F250 crew cab trucks that allow people to move around. In addition, electric vehicle charging stations are located in the front of the Sugarlands Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Center and the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center. The park also boasts a recycling program that allows for the disposal of waste to the Sevier County Solid Waste, a composting facility in Tennessee. Seventy percent of the solid waste collected within the park is recycled; only 30% of the total volume is earmarked for the landfill.

Mojave Desert – California

In addition to the Mojave Desert’s stunning sand dunes, wild Joshua tree forest and whimsical carpets of wildflowers that spark during springtime, the 1.6-million-acre park has been an early pioneer of the National Park Service’s Go Green campaign. The program aims to reduce energy, water, fuel consumption and waste. While wandering around the desert, it is easy to encounter the nine solar power plants— Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS)—placed behind the rocks. A combined capacity of 354 megawatts (MW) makes them the largest solar power engine in the country.

Cabañeros National Park Visitor Center & Interactive Museum – Spain

Located in Montes de Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha, the Cabañeros National Park Visitor Center & Interactive Museum is a project by Alvaro Planchuelo, a Spanish architecture firm. Focused on promoting ecotourism through information, exhibition and research, the Visitor Center is designed to showcases and educate others about the unique biodiversity that exists in Cabañeros.

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Cabañeros National Park Visitors Center and Interactive Museum / Álvaro Planchuelo (archdaily.com, Ricardo Santanja, Alberto Cubas)

The project is an ideal model for what is referred to as “passive design.” It features thermal insulation, a comprehensive system that graduates natural light in the exhibition, as well as electric heat pumps. The design prioritizes the protection of the building from solar radiation to avoid spending on air conditioning, most of all during the summer. All such measures contribute to achieving high-energy efficiency of the building without emitting polluting gases into the atmosphere.

READ MORE: Achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal n.7 by Andrew Burger

about the author
Anna Volpicelli