Solar panels

Renewable Energy in the Rockies

The Students: Brian Fennell, Kohmei Kadoya, John Matthews, Patrick Nieman, and Ron Pfisterer

The Advisors: Leslie Dodson and Ingrid Shockey 

The Challenge:

The Estes Park YMCA campus in Colorado, an 860-acre family-oriented resort with an emphasis on ecotourism and nature, is the world’s largest YMCA center and is owned and operated by the YMCA of the Rockies. As part of its sustainability goals, the Estes Park Center wishes to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and begin generating renewable energy on site. The aim of this project was to support this goal by conducting a feasibility study of renewable energy at the Estes Park campus.

The Goals:

Understand how renewable energy infrastructure could impact the experience of the YMCA campus; assess the advantages and disadvantages of wind and solar sources with evaluation frameworks that combined the technical, financial, and social feasibility findings; evaluate the spatial, meteorological, and logistical conditions at the YMCA of the Rockies at Estes; compile the data and recommendations into interactive and compelling deliverables that the YMCA could use to create and advance plans for renewable energy.

The Approach:

The team created a paper-based survey conducted in person near the center of the campus to guests and staff using a sample of convenience. They also conducted numerous in-depth, semi-structured key informant interviews with YMCA executive leadership and staff members across several departments, using a snowball sampling strategy. They also solicited perceptions of the feasibility and potential challenges of implementing renewables on the campus.

The team took a broad approach to its site assessments to identify potential locations on the YMCA campus for installation of solar, wind, and micro-hydro infrastructure. After finding solar power to be most appropriate for the location, the team conducted a detailed technical analysis of the year-round energy potential and short- and long-term costs of panel installations. Infrastructure measurements and qualitative assessments were compiled into a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis to determine feasibility trends.


The findings support an opportunity for the YMCA to consider solar panel installations in the near future.

• The YMCA should pursue a pilot program with solar panels on one building. This program would be a lower-cost way to begin generating renewable energy and would allow the YMCA to obtain more accurate data on energy output, costs, and guest and staff perceptions before proceeding with a larger solar installation.

• The YMCA should foster engagement and improve education among guests, staff, and donors with regard to sustainability. A committee should develop programs such as an educational speaker series, staff listening sessions, and an expanded scope of continually updated posters and infographics highlighting progress in sustainability.

• The large 3D-printed relief map created by the team can visually communicate current and future renewable energy installations. The map is accompanied by infographics explaining current and prospective YMCA sustainability and renewable energy efforts.

• The YMCA should fund internal and external grant programs. An internal grant program would allow individual staff members to apply for funds to implement small-scale improvements related to sustainability and other topics. The Estes Park Center could also follow in the footsteps of the Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA and use the funds to support charitable causes in the local community.

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