Solar panels will be installed on the roof of Wilson House during the upcoming summer, an event that will mark the college’s first time having on-site renewable energy.
The project was approved by Student Senate at the end of Winter Term and will be funded through the Student Sustainability Fund. Junior Sofia Tagkaloglou presented the project to Senate with the support of Director of Facilities Scott Maust and Director of Sustainability Initiatives Deborah Steinberg.
Total costs for the installation are estimated at $46,660, with $26,560 going toward the purchase of the solar panels and their installation.
The initiative to bring solar panels to campus started about two years ago when a group of students, including Tagkaloglou, in Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman’s Energy class looked into a proposal for bringing solar panels to campus. That project was scaled down to a smaller pilot project that could be more attainable.
Wilson House was selected as a location for the project because of the roof’s orientation, its visibility from ground level and because it could become an energy neutral or near-energy neutral building with the panels.
“You can see the panels from the ground, so I really think that it’s a behind the scenes improvement that you can see,” Steinberg said. “I really think it will empower people to see the commitment that Knox is putting toward on-site renewables.”
She said that she also hopes its visibility might inspire behavioral changes and hopes to develop some educational programming to go along with it.
The upcoming installation will produce just under the amount of energy the building uses. According to the fund application for the project, Wilson House uses an average of 10.5 kWh per year, and the array would produce just under 10 kWh in the first year.
“Hopefully we can inspire a little more efficient use of energy within the building and we can actually get it energy-neutral,” Steinberg said.
Tagkaloglou noted that many sustainability initiatives on campus, like this one, have been student driven.
“It really speaks to how empowering it is to have those opportunities and the fact that students have a fund to do these types of projects,” she said. “It was a really important opportunity for me and I hope that other students are able to see that as something that they can also do.”
A structural engineer evaluated Wilson House and suggested that some reinforcements must occur before the installation so the roof can withstand the weight of the panels as well as any potential snow.
Once the school year ends, construction can begin on the building to reinforce the roof and the solar panels will be installed after that is completed. The funds request also included money for a sign to promote the project and inform the campus about it. Steinberg said that ideally the panels will be ready by the start of Fall Term 2017.
Tagkaloglou said that she hopes this can act as a step toward one day bringing more renewable energy to the Knox campus.
“I do see that as ideally something we could be moving toward, I don’t expect that to be tomorrow, of course,” she said.
Knox currently participates in the Renewable Energy Credit Market and is in its third year of participation. This program allows organizations to claim the environmental and social benefits of renewable energy sources. According to the college’s website, Knox currently purchases credits to attribute 125 percent of its electrical use to renewables Ñ specifically wind power generated in the Midwest.
“To have that on-site renewable is sort of the next step,” Steinberg said.