More Snow for Less Energy: Is It Real?

Valerie Eacret, Jonathan B. Maxwell, and Betsy Ricker, ERS
Presented at ACEEE Summer Study, August 5, 2015. Image credit: Wokandapix

Snowmaking is a key part of the ski industry; without it, many mountains would not be able to sustain operations. The process is seemingly simple: combine high-pressure air with water at a low temperature, and you have snow. But, the amount of compressed air required to make the snow varies by a factor of 15 or more depending on the equipment and conditions, which represents significant energy savings potential. Because the amount of compressed air per gallon of water changes between the baseline and efficient conditions depending on the wet-bulb temperature, the magnitude of savings is dependent on how long the baseline and proposed guns are operated at various wet-bulb temperatures. There are many factors that affect the ability to quantify the snow-gun energy savings, including:

  • Amount of natural snowfall
  • Number of guns upgraded
  • Size of the mountain’s snowmaking operations
  • Gun operator preference
  • Water and compressed air system inefficiencies and capacities
  • Electric versus diesel costs
  • Compressor run time
  • Water and compressed air flow rate
  • Energy use data availability
  • Snow quality

New snow guns are so efficient that they can enable operators to make more snow than the inefficient guns and extend the ski season, which makes baseline determination a challenge if only post-installation data is available. This paper provides analysts with methods to confidently assess the energy savings for snowmaking retrofit projects using rigorous, site-specific, measurement and verification based methods and a standardized calculator. Case studies illustrate the applicability of these methods and non-energy benefits associated with these projects.


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