Blackburn consider solar powered undersoil heating
We're in the middle of a very cold spell at the moment. All I hope for at this time of the year is to get the matches played and out of the way. Get them off the calendar. Spring will be here in 6 weeks and that's the only light at the end of the tunnel.
The main stadium pitch has had some heavy use - 16 games in the worst 12 weeks of the season (November, December and January). The usage included rugby training, a rugby match and a UEFA cup game. We even had a youth cup game played during heavy rain; the ball was aqua-plaining.
The pitch is probably as bad as I've seen it for the last 5 years but, there again, we've played nearly 30 games. It's a lot of fixtures for the main pitch, and we've got even more to come. By the end of the season we will have played 70 plus games. Our average in other years has been about 50. Additionally, we've got 2 pop concerts lined up for the closed season, soccer sixes, a Football Aid game and a testimonial.
The pop concerts are scheduled for the 25th and 26th May. After that I'm going to take a minimum of 20-25mm off the top; get rid of all the organic material, the black layer, and the silt and fines at the surface. The root zone at Ewood was installed in 1992. It was the old Rufford root zone with a high percentage of fines, the silt and clay content was also quite high.
Two years ago we took 20 mm off and tried to dilute that down with a medium sand. This time I'm going to do all the renovation work myself. We're just in the process of buying a new tractor and 2m Koro. I can't warrant throwing a thousand pound per pitch for
I look after 14 pitches at Blackburn. By doing it ourselves, we can virtually pay for the machine in its first year. This year's work at the training ground and academy is not going to be major - some fraize mowing, mild koro work and basic soil exchange followed by top dressing, seeding, fertilising, verti draining and so on. All the work will be carried out by our ground staff. With all the pitches we would be looking at massive contractor bills.
We're very proud of the standard of our training facilities - I doubt if there is a better facility anywhere in Europe. If there is, I'll eat hay with a donkey. The pitches are outstanding.
The other day I had a walk around the academy site with Mike Harbridge from PSD, taking soil samples for analysis. He could not believe how good the pitches were. The reason, I told him, was because of the winter break. We had 2 weeks statutory holiday for Christmas at the academy, then we had 3 weeks frost. So, the pitches have had a 5 week break. Mike thought it was a strong argument for a formal mid-winter break. We are the only country not to have a break - it's absolutely crazy.
Last night it was forecast -3°, so I double covered half of one of the pitches. It is still -6° and still frozen under the covers. It supports the case for the solar powered undersoil heating. A lot of people are saying the winters are getting milder, but it only takes one cold spell to catch everybody out.
At the training ground, I'm also looking into the feasibility of installing undersoil heating during the summer. I'm looking at a solar powered system rather than gas or oil fired. I must admit I'm quite excited about the possibility. The company are testing a panel at Edinburgh airport and it's working well. There's also a 40% EEC grant towards the installation costs, and then the running costs are virtually nil!
With our current under soil heating system at the main stadium, we budget for £1,000 running costs per 24 hours of use. With the solar powered system, when the energy is not being used on the undersoil heating, it generates enough energy to power the pavilion and dressing rooms. Its an exciting concept!
Initially, providing the total costs are acceptable, we will be installing the system on one pitch at the training ground and possibly on one pitch at the academy. There is still some more homework to be done, but I'm looking forward to completing the feasibility study.Good luck to you all.