Solar Powered Air Quality Monitor Operating Near Weeping Water
Article by Richard Webster
Weeping Water. This poetic-sounding name was given to a creek in southeast Nebraska by Native Americans (the creek was called “the weeping waters”). The town of Weeping Water eventually grew alongside the creek. But it is not water, weeping or otherwise, that now distinguishes this area. Rather, it is a rock formed over thousands of years when the Weeping Water area was covered by a warm, shallow sea. Extensive deposits of marine organisms and other debris on the floor of this sea were transformed over time into what we call limestone.
There is no doubt about the importance of limestone to the Weeping Water area. At the entrance to the town sits a “Welcome to Weeping Water” greeting – constructed, of course, of limestone. And the town’s claim to fame? The Limestone Center of the Nation. Summer finds the town celebrating Limestone/Independence Day.
Six major limestone quarrying and aggregate operations are vital to the area’s economy. Limestone quarrying and associated crushing and transportation activities produce large quantities of dust that must be controlled through various means. Control is important because high levels of dust particles inhaled into the lungs can contribute to respiratory illnesses. Due to the presence of the limestone industry, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) has operated particulate air quality monitors in Weeping Water since soon after the department’s creation in the early 1970s.
In 2003 NDEQ expanded its monitoring network by placing a new monitor in a Weeping Water park. The department also decided to expand the network outside (but still nearby) Weeping Water. Due to the requirements of the new monitor and associated meteorological equipment (close to an area considered vulnerable to particulate emissions, close to a power source, unobstructed landscape for 300 feet in all directions) traditional sites were all eliminated.
The search for a location to place a new air quality monitor eventually led to the farm of Kenneth Lauritzen, a local landowner and farmer. Mr. Lauritzen agreed to allow a small portion of his cropland to be used to site the monitor. NDEQ’s plan to tap into a nearby electrical substation was found to be unworkable, though. The department’s alternative plan to run power from Mr. Lauritzen’s farmhouse was found to be too expensive.
When it looked as if the Lauritzen site might have to be abandoned, NDEQ staff decided to explore the possibility of using alternative power sources. Following extensive research, Air Quality program staff settled on a unique solution to the power problem: they would use photovoltaic, or solar, power to operate the new monitoring station.
“We considered wind power because it is approximately one quarter the cost of solar power per watt of power generated,” said Chris Hetzler, NDEQ Air Quality Program Specialist. “Based on wind data we had collected at a nearby monitor, though, it turned out that a site powered solely by wind power was unfeasible because the average wind speed is too low. Solar power is workable about anywhere, however. It’s just a matter of having a large enough array of panels and enough batteries to run through the night and on cloudy days.”
NDEQ began constructing the solar powered monitoring station in January 2005. Work was completed in April 2005. The completed air monitoring and meteorological station (see photos) consists of: