Forty years after its dedication, it's time to make changes at the University’s Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO) that reflect the realities of how we use the facility and respect our impact on natural resources, particularly our water and energy consumption. We propose to upgrade our bathrooms, kitchen, and lighting to conserve water and energy, and to build a rainwater catchment system and a solar energy system to reduce our reliance on outside water and power. The budget for this proposal is approximately $60,000, of which $49,000 is for the solar energy system.
MRO is a small observatory owned by the UW Astronomy department. Starting with the snow melt in the spring, and continuing until through mid-October, our undergraduate majors spend days learning how to use the thirty inch telescope and conducting independent research. Each summer about twenty students use the observatory and two classes of astro 101 students from Everett Community College enjoy an overnight field trip. Year round the Electrical Engineering Department’s Radar Remote Sensing Lab uses the facility remotely.
Built in 1972 on a ridge outside of Ellensburg, Washington, electrical and telephone utilities could be brought in, but it was far too remote for city water service. The standard bathroom and kitchen fixtures make us reliant on expensive water deliveries (~$800 each time). In addition each team brings up drinking water in jugs, so the delivered water is used almost entirely for flushing. We think it’s time to rebuild the observatories energy and water systems since the last forty years have seen the maturation of low-energy lighting and low-consumption water fixtures, as well the development of an industry focused on household solar power generation.
Our plan for conservation is to construct a kitchen that is not plumbed to running water, to replace the kitchen’s energy inefficient fridge and range as well as our original “maximum flush” toilets, and to install LED lighting for our working and living areas. In order to reduce the observatories overall environmental impact, and to demonstrate the possibilities for sustainable construction, we propose the construction of a rainwater catchment system and solar grid-tie system with battery reserve. The latter option could potentially make us the first observatory capable of solar-powered astronomical observations.
We project energy savings of $3000 per year, and during our busy summer season we project that the solar array could take the observatory entirely off the grid. The surplus energy we generate (approximately $200 worth) is sold back to the grid, savings we can return to the CSF. Updating our bathrooms and kitchen could completely replace the need for water deliveries, which would save $2400 per year and reduce CO2 emissions due to observatory operations by one ton annually.
Included in the budget are computer monitors to display and create awareness on campus of the sustainable energy equipment at MRO. Of course we will also compare ongoing electrical and water costs with previous years to quantify the system’s effectiveness.