LL Bean - Freeport, Maine
The solar collectors atop L.L. Bean’s flagship store are a visible symbol of their commitment to using sustainable energy whenever possible.

Photo courtesy of L.L. Bean

L.L. Bean, the iconic Maine outdoor apparel and equipment retailer, took one more step towards their corporate goal of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2012 with the installation of a solar hot water system on their flagship store in Freeport, Maine.

The system consists of 180 evacuated tube solar hot water collectors which heat twin 80 gallon Stiebel Eltron solar hot water storage tanks.

The closed loop system contains non toxic antifreeze which pumps from the tanks to the collectors, where it is heated by the sun, and then back to the storage tank where it passes through a heat exchange coil to heat the domestic hot water supply.

From May to September the array will provide nearly 100% of the hot water used for the flagship store’s employee shower, custodial basins, 2 cafes and 29 sinks.  Beans’ existing propane hot water heater serves as a backup.

“This system can heat enough water on sunny days so that we won’t need to fire up the water heaters in the store,” says George Croston, HVAC Senior Supervisor in Facilities and the project manager for the solar panel installation. “On overcast days and on cold days in the winter, the system will still preheat water so that we’ll use less energy to get it up to the right temperature of 120 degrees F.”

Here is a video of ReVision cofounder Fortunat Mueller (who designed the system) explaining how it works:

L.L. Bean: Showing People Solar Works

“We want visitors to see these solar panels and make the positive connection that L.L.Bean is investing in and promoting renewable energy,” says L.L.Bean Senior Public Relations Representative Laurie Brooks. “The more businesses that make these types of changes, the better. It’s our hope that eventually green technology will become mainstream, and prices for solar technology will become more affordable.”

The solar hot water investment is part of larger environmental stewardship efforts by L.L. Bean, which include upgrading lighting systems throughout the company, converting heating systems to natural gas (from oil and propane) and implementing a corporate energy policy.

“In concert with additional energy efficiency projects, [the solar hot water system] will allow us to achieve our EPA Climate Leaders goal of reducing our greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2012,” adds Laurie. Climate Leaders is a voluntary partnership between industry and government that encourages companies to develop long-term strategies that reduce CO2 emissions.

L.L. Bean has also committed to build all new structures according to the US Green Building Council’s LEED standards and has converted their heavy-duty truck fleet to biodiesel fuel.

You can learn more about L.L. Bean’s environmental commitment on their website.

Making Solar Affordable

L.L. Bean expects to use 850 fewer gallons of propane each year with the new system, resulting in a savings of nearly $1,900 in fuel costs in the first year alone, and more than $51,000 in fuel savings over the warrantied 15-year life of the solar heating system. The system should last much longer than that—the solar panels L.L. Bean installed on the roof of their Taylor Building in the 1980s are still producing hot water for that building’s restrooms and employee showers decades later.

“In addition, use of renewable energy, in concert with additional energy efficiency projects, will allow us to achieve our EPA Climate Leaders goal of reducing our greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2012,” adds Laurie. Climate Leaders is a voluntary partnership between industry and government that encourages companies to develop long-term strategies that reduce CO2 emissions.

The project was made possible in part thanks to an Efficiency Maine Commercial Grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The stimulus funding reduced payback projections for L.L.Bean’s new hot water solar system to less than 5 years, with immediate cost savings. 

Next time you visit Freeport, be sure to keep an eye open for the system, which sits to the right of the legendary Bean Boot on the flagship store (on the roof of the camping area).