Off the Grid in the Lamar Valley
Lamar Buffalo Ranch Project Gets a Boost from Batteries
Yellowstone continues to raise the bar in its use of renewable energy sources. Soon, it will power an important Park facility with a combination of sunlight, a natural spring, and used car batteries. Sound futuristic? It's not.
The Lamar Buffalo Ranch was established in 1907 to preserve Yellowstone's bison after they had been hunted to near extinction. Located in the remote northeast corner of the Park, this small ranch sits on the north side of Lamar Valley where Rose Creek reaches the open alluvial plains. Both historic and new log cabins accompany what are now horse corrals, and bison roam freely through the Park.
Ten miles from the nearest electric service, the ranch has always been, by necessity, off the grid. However, today it requires a reliable, year-round source of power.
During the summer and winter, the ranch serves as a field campus for the Yellowstone Association's courses, and in the spring and fall it is home to the Park Service's youth education program, Expedition: Yellowstone!. Lamar River District rangers reside here year round, and the corrals and historic barn are the center for the area's backcountry operation.
The Park plans to replace the ranch's propane generator with a fuel-efficient version that will act as a back-up only. An emission-free micro-hydro turbine and generator will be installed, and aging solar panels and battery storage will be replaced.
Water, Sunshine, and... Car Batteries?
Micro-hydro systems work by using a clean and readily available energy source: water. The existing domestic water pipe will be used to channel water from a nearby natural spring through a turbine before returning it to the stream. The turbine will use the force of the water's downhill momentum to generate energy without consuming or polluting it.
Water power was actually the original electricity source at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, with a small turbine located under the bunkhouse.
A similar micro-hydro system, installed in 2012 at Mammoth Hot Springs, saves the Park more than $80,000 per year in electricity costs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 800 metric tons annually.
But here's the new twist: by using the micro-hydro turbine and solar panels to harness the power of water and sunshine, this process will recharge electricity stored within 208 refurbished Toyota Camry Hybrid batteries. The batteries are expected to have enough storage capacity for the campus electric supply to be fossil-fuel free. Working in conjunction with the new turbine and upgraded solar panels, the batteries will allow heat and hot water previously generated by propane to be provided by electricity.
In addition to Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., other generous corporate partners working on this project include Andersen Windows, Inc., Sharp Manufacturing Company of America, Indy Power Systems, Patriot Environmental Services, and Kohler Co.
Just as the Lamar Buffalo Ranch was granted a new purpose hosting students instead of bison, the car batteries will have a second useful life bringing light and heat to those students.
The project, due for completion this fall, will bring the Lamar Buffalo Ranch a step closer to the ultimate goal of being zero-waste and zero-emissions for daily operation. The project will include real-time monitoring for energy management and education, serving as a model of environmental stewardship for parks and people everywhere.
All photographs by Matt Ludin/Yellowstone Park Foundation