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Sustainability Solutions No. 9: Renewable Energy Feasibility Assessment

Computer illustration of a building that has space available for a PV array on the roof sections. In the illustration there is text with arrows labeling the available space. The text reads, "Supervisor's Office", "south section 1,410 ft", "east section 5,509 ft", "North 50' x 50'" and "south section 4,745 ft".
Figure 1—A computer illustration of the space available
for a PV array on roof sections of the Lassen National
Forest Supervisor's Office.
Many Forest Service facilities have antiquated heating and cooling systems, single-pane windows and doors, inadequate insulation, and outdated appliances. These conditions make energy efficiency a difficult goal to achieve, but a renewable energy feasibility assessment may help.

The Forest Service, like all Federal agencies, is required by Executive Order 13423 to reduce electricity use and to invest in renewable energy technologies. Reducing consumption and investing in renewable energy not only saves money, it also decreases carbon dioxide production (CO₂).

In 2009, Tim Dedrick, assistant forest engineer with the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, received a grant of $75,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Federal Energy Management Program to research renewable energy applications for facilities. In 2010, Dedrick, the Lassen Green Team, and a (DOE) team visually inspected facilities during a 2-day administrative site visit on the Lassen National Forest (figure 1). They checked electrical panels; studied site plans, elevations, orientations, and vegetation cover; and reviewed building blueprints and weather data. The team analyzed the data to prepare a feasibility assessment.

Photo of a building with PV array mounted on it's corrugated metal roof.
Figure 2—A PV array mounted on a corrugated metal roof,
which is located on a building in Inyo National Forest.
The feasibility assessment determines the potential for onsite installation of renewable energy technologies. Low-tech, readily available opportunities include: roof- or ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) systems (figure 2), biomass energy systems, and solar thermal systems.

Photovoltaic systems covert sunlight into electricity. They have no moving parts, reducing maintenance requirements. While PV systems generally have high initial costs, their annual operation and maintenance costs are low.

Photo of a building with a sloped roof which would work well for the solar PV project.
Figure 3—The Eagle Lake District Office is a potential location for a
biomass energy system to replace the existing propane fuel system.
A solar PV project also might work because the building has a sloped
roof with a south-facing area. Only a portion of the roof could be
used due to shading from nearby trees.
Biomass energy systems (figure 3) usually are designed to burn dry, seasoned wood, but can be designed to burn other biomass fuels, such as pellets or corn. Forest Service facilities almost always are located close to biomass sources, such as wood processing plants, municipal solid waste facilities, or agricultural communities.

Solar thermal systems harness radiant energy from the sun and transfer that energy to heat water. These systems can reduce thermal energy consumption from existing, fossil fuel-burning water heaters.

The renewable energy feasibility assessment also helps determine the initial cost, the time it will take to recoup investment, the yearly savings in electricity and propane costs, and the amount of CO₂ saved at an existing Forest Service facility.

For more information on the Lassen National Forest renewable energy feasibility assessment, please contact:

Tim Dedrick

We're interested in what is happening in your unit. Contact Bob Beckley ( at 406–329–3996 to share your sustainability solutions with others in the Forest Service.