Friday, September 14, 2012

Facilities building adds solar panels

By Jesse Major, Guest Writer

To demonstrate that solar energy is actually viable in Washington state, solar panels were added to the Facilities Management building over the summer.

They are not meant to significantly reduce Pacific Lutheran University’s carbon footprint, Christine Cooley, sustainability manager, said.

Although the cells cover less than half of the roof, they have a lifespan of 20-25 years and the potential to save PLU over $6,000.

Germany, which has a climate very similar to Washington, leads the world in solar energy, Cooley said.

Although people may think production decreases significantly, the output of the cells doesn’t actually decrease that much, Cooley said.

A kiosk in the Anderson University Center displays real-time photovoltaic energy production and is updated hourly.

By viewing the interactive graphs at that kiosk, students can see how the weather affects solar energy production.  The graphs show hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly production.

Cooley estimated the solar cells can produce approximately 6700 total kilowatt-hours per year.

PLU pays 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, Cooley said. With the solar panels in place, PLU is saving approximately $300 a year.

This is not enough to cover all of the electricity used by the building, Dave Kohler, director of sustainability management, said.

The cells can produce approximately seven kilowatt-hours of electricity– which is enough to charge two electric cars a day. PLU charges its electric vehicles with these solar cells, Kohler said.

The seven kilowatt-hour system was funded by $70,000 in grants, according to Kohler.

Cooley “was instrumental in getting the grant,” Kohler said.

“I researched renewable energy grants for over a year.  I looked into Power Purchase Agreements, private donors, and smaller local grants,” Cooley said. “Finally, I heard of Solar 4R Schools through a random search on the internet.  It was serendipitous.”

Alum Orion Bras had talked with Cooley last year about the plausibility of installing a solar array at PLU.

Bras helped with completing paperwork, meeting with Pacific Light & Water, setting up the kiosk in the Anderson University Center and working with ASPLU to secure funding.

“I worked on this project not only to help the university engage in the sustainably energy debate, but so that students would start a dialogue... as to how they feel [PLU] should proceed to face the very serious energy and environmental challenges that we face in the coming decades,” Bras said.

Looking into the future, PLU plans to be carbon neutral, negating all carbon emissions through clean energy programs and attaining a net-zero carbon footprint, by 2020.

Cooley did a survey of the PLU campus and found a significant amount of rooftop space that could be used for solar cells. She also would like to install a solar thermal heating system wherever there are showers on campus.

Both Kohler and Cooley said they are always looking into the possibility of expanding solar cells to other parts of campus.

“But that’s down the road,” Cooley said.

Kohler noted that expansion would call for more funding.

“Projects like solar panels are not the first thought Alumni have when wanting to assist in funding for new buildings or renovations,” Kohler said.