Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Solar-powered golf carts are the way to go

... from Hong Kong to New York, the word is spreading

By David Shefter, USGA
Southampton, New York. – A glorious fall day has enveloped the eastern end of Long Island, with the clear-blue sky matched only by the hues glistening off the Great Peconic Bay.
The near-perfect early October weather has brought a few more members and their guests to the Sebonack Golf Club, a four-year-old Tom Doak/Jack Nicklaus design that will host the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open.
While it’s an idyllic day to walk, some of the golfers choose motorised transportation to help them make their way around the gorgeous 318-acre property.
As they play, something scientifically remarkable is taking place, and it has nothing to do with any shot or particular design feature.
Even more astonishing is the fact that many of the golfers don’t even realise it.
This past May, Sebonack decided to enhance its environmentally conscious practices – it earned the Metropolitan Golf Association’s Club Environment Award in 2008 – by fitting 39 of its 40 carts with solar panels designed and engineered by SolarDrive, a Denmark-based company. By doing so, it became the first U.S. golf course to implement solar technology for golf carts.
“Power costs are very expensive on Long Island,” said Sebonack owner Michael Pascucci. “We’re saving minimum two-thirds on the amount of electricity [being used]. Why not take advantage of the free solar power we have on Earth? I don’t know why everybody isn’t doing this.”
That day could be coming soon, especially as the price for the technology comes down. The solar roofs run approximately $2,700 per cart, but like anything new that hits the market – whether it’s a titanium driver or a high-definition flat-screen television – costs tend to drop once there is greater demand and increased production. There are also state and federal tax incentives for golf clubs that go solar.
The potential savings are enormous, especially for facilities in year-round golf locales that heavily depend on golf carts for their day-to-day operations. Earlier this year, the Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course in Hong Kong became the first club in the world to outfit its entire fleet of golf carts with solar technology. The club estimates it will save $50,000 annually by making the switch.
“Not only does it make sound business sense, but we think this type of technology sends out the right kind of strong environmental message,” SolarDrive’s Peter Randow said on the company’s Web site. “We’re lobbying other countries, and hopefully more and more will follow [Sebonack’s] lead [in the U.S.]”
The panels can be retro-fitted onto any make of golf cart. Once out in the sun, a cart can be fully charged within an hour and easily go 18 or more holes. A sensor underneath the roof provides instant feedback on the amount of solar energy the panels are receiving.
If it’s a sunny day, the cart constantly charges even while being used. But even on a cloudy day, a fully charged cart will have enough energy to go one full round.
And thanks to the technology, Sebonack staff members are no longer receiving distress calls about a dead electric cart out on the course.
“Normally, if you’ve got no sunlight on it and it’s just charged up, you’ll do 18 [holes], maybe 27,” said Mark Hissey, who works for Pascucci and was the project manager during the course’s construction. “But 18 is more likely.”
An energy study by the Golf Resource Group, a Phoenix-based firm, concluded that most golf courses use from 250,000 to 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually for operations. To put the higher number in layman’s terms, that’s the energy equivalent used in 278 2,500-square-foot houses.
Pascucci, knowing that eastern Long Island residents are concerned about conserving energy and protecting the environment, saw going solar as a way to cut costs without sacrificing high-quality service to the membership.
For Sebonack, going solar means a savings of $4 per day per cart. With 39 carts in operation, that’s nearly $160 per day. More important, the club estimates it will reduce its consumption from the electric grid by 50 to 75 percent.
The solar carts also help extend the life of the cart batteries, which cost $200 apiece. Because the sun constantly keeps the carts charged, the batteries last longer and don’t need to be replaced as often.
“You can’t miss with these carts,” said Pascucci. “It’s a really positive thing for our members and their guests to see that they’re riding around on the sun’s power and reducing their carbon footprint.
“The bottom line is … it was the right thing to do.”
Added Hissey: “Morally and financially … made it a no-brainer in my book.”
David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at



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