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Microwaving Ole Smokies

leah kirk

The NPS has proposed a solar-powered microgrid to replace a power line in a remote area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).  If developed, the Mt. Sterling Sustainable Energy Project could serve as an example of microgrids as cost-effective alternatives to transmission or distribution lines.


                The GSMNP is located in a rugged area of North Carolina and Tennessee.  Today, NPS radio equipment located at the Mt. Sterling Fire Lookout Tower is powered by a 3.5-mile overhead line that is challenging and expensive to maintain in the remote and steep terrain. Duke Energy has proposed installing a microgrid to power the radio equipment at the old fire tower: 30 solar panels tied to a zinc-air battery. 


This solar microgrid would then operate separately from the interstate electricity grid, and according to NPS "It would allow greater reliability while using a renewable energy source."  While estimates suggest that 10 trees would need to be cleared for site development and to prevent shading, NPS notes that "The microgrid would allow the existing overhead line to be decommissioned and the existing maintained corridor would return to a natural state.” If approved, implementation could occur in spring 2017.