Solar Panels Installed on University of Arkansas HPER Building

System designed to heat pool, save energy and money

An array of 48 solar panels is now installed on the roof of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building at the University of Arkansas. The solar heating system will provide over half of the energy needed to heat the building’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, which is heated year around.

The 1,920-square-foot solar hot water array on the roof is connected to a heat exchanger that provides supplemental heat to the pool. The system is designed to provide all of the heat for the water in the 730,000-gallon pool during the summer and to pre-heat water on cloudy days and in the winter. The solar panels harvest over 2 million BTUs of heat energy per day. The system is expected to reduce utility bills in the HPER Building significantly while cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

The HPER solar installation is part of the campuswide RazorsEDGE energy savings program, which enables the university to invest in energy conservation and renewable energy projects. The university has a $23.9 million energy savings performance contract with Energy Systems Group, an energy services provider. The RazorsEDGE program is designed to reduce annual energy consumption in buildings across campus, with a guarantee that energy savings over a 13-year period that will cover the cost of all building improvements.

Energy Systems Group is the general contractor for RazorsEDGE and partnered with Sun City Solar Commercial Energy LLC, which designed and installed the innovative solar panel heating system on the HPER Building.


“Solar heating is ideal for swimming pool applications,” said Garret Roth, Design Manager for Sun City. “It’s a relatively low temperature requirement and can take advantage of solar radiation all year.”

Nick Brown, the University of Arkansas director for campus sustainability, said that this solar thermal system matches a dependable solar resource to a constant energy demand.

“Because energy is needed year around to heat this pool to 80 degrees, we can take advantage of available solar energy in warm months as well as cool ones,” he said. “To our knowledge, this is the largest solar thermal energy system in the state of Arkansas. This project helps move us toward our goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus by the year 2040.”

Paul Gandy, construction manager for Energy Systems Group, said his company and Sun City worked seamlessly with the university to develop an innovative installation that will save energy and money, at the same time raising the profile of solar hot water systems as a viable alternative energy source for some applications.

The HPER Building and its pool are currently heated with a natural gas-fired steam system. Scott Turley, director of utilities for the university, estimates that the solar energy system will reduce the building’s energy bill by about $4,000 per year at today’s energy prices.

“Gas costs have fluctuated wildly over the past couple of years,” said Turley, “but if prices return to the level they were in spring 2008, we’ll save $10,000 per year or more.”

Last year the HPER Building pool had a total of 55,000 users. In addition to university students, faculty and staff, the pool is the site of collegiate and high school swim and dive meets, it serves as a practice facility for several swim clubs and teams, and it is used for swimming instruction, group exercise programs and entertainment, such as the popular “dive-in” movies at the pool.

The university’s College of Education and Health Professions, which includes academic programs for health science, kinesiology, recreation, and dance, manages the HPER Building operations. Intramural and recreational sports and fitness programs for campus users and alumni are also operated from the building.

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