Tassajara’s new solar heating system will save money, and the planet.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Tassajara will soon not only be a Buddhist retreat from society’s stresses, but also a place to get completely off the grid.
The Zen monastery is turning to the sun for all its power by adding four additional solar arrays. “We [now] have our own power plant,” says Colin Gipson, former physical plant manager.
One of the primary drivers of expanding Tassajara’s solar capacity was not having to pay for diesel (estimated at about $9,000 a year) and haul it up the road from Jamesburg, Gipson says.
Currently, solar panels and a mini wind turbine generate about half of Tassajara’s energy during peak guest season in the summer, he adds. The rest comes from a WhisperWatt diesel generator.
“We won’t have to be trucking that diesel at all,” says David Rivetti, Tassajara facilities and construction manager. “[The solar project] certainly is going to make everyone out there feel better about using less diesel.”
The San Francisco Zen Center, which runs Tassajara, already tries to conserve energy and purchase food from sustainable sources, among other eco-friendly practices.
“Peak electrical use at Tassajara runs at up to 80 [kilowatt-hours] per day for the community, which hosts up to 160 people during the summer guest season,” writes Simon Moyes, assistant to the Zen Center’s president. “In comparison, average daily consumption in a household in the northwestern United States runs at a rate of 30 kilowatt-hours for a household comprised of four to five people.”
The panels and structural components are in place on a hillside above the retreat. But Gipson says the installation was no cakewalk. “There is a lot of concrete that had to go up the hill,” he says.
Next, workers will pull cable for the panels. They plan to have the newly added 12 kilowatts of power electrifying the monastery within a month.
“We are going to be more than double the capacity we have right now,” Rivetti says. “We will always have the diesel generator backup. That’s an important part of our energy puzzle.”
Berkeley-based Sun Light and Power, which also installed solar panels on the roof of the Zen Center’s headquarters, designed the Tassajara solar system.