Office of Sustainablity aims to start solar panel initiative come spring

By Zana pommier

pommierza@mnstate.edu

The Dragons are charging up to heat campus this spring. The Office of Sustainability is exploring solar energy projects they hope to begin when the ground thaws.

“We’re looking at several options, but the front-runner is called a solar canopy and would be in the parking lot on the north side of the alumni house,” Sustainability Coordinator Joe Herbst said.

The canopy would cover an open area spanning approximately four parking spaces, with enough room for cars underneath.

Other areas discussed include from the back of the Wellness Center to the south side of the Center for Business.

The project will proceed if funding is approved. Most of the financing will come from the Green Fee, paid by all students for sustainability initiatives. The total cost will be around $40,000 to $50,000, with the help of a rebate of $8,000 from Moorhead Public Service.

Zapping in on the scale at 6,750 watts, the voltage from the solar canopy would be able to supply 0.04 percent of the electrical power on campus.

While such a small amount of energy created may be shocking, MSUM would need substantially large solar panels to electrify all of campus. Powering the entire campus through solar energy would require around 100 football fields worth of space.

“Supplying all of the campus’ electrical needs would require closer to 16 million watts,” Herbst said. “The purpose of the project is more of a demonstration than a big electric producer.”

While the traditional appeal of solar panels on roofs would provide more energy for campus, the idea would be difficult to wire in.

“MnSCU is very finicky about any holes in the roof, and most of our roofs weren’t designed for additional weight,” Herbst said.

Although the solar canopy wouldn’t have a strong current, it opens up doors to other forms of alternative energy.

“Doing the solar canopy also allows us to be a leader in sustainability if we choose to be early adopters of the car charging capability,” Herbst said.

If the canopy added car chargers, it might encourage undecided faculty or students to purchase electric cars. If the canopy slashed four gas-powered cars from the road,

campus would make a fairly big difference in sustainability. In fact, in a 2008 Carnegie Mellon University study, greenhouse gas emissions were 32 percent less from a plug-in hybrid than a fully gasoline-powered car overall.

Though MSUM can’t be fully powered with solar energy, other alternatives have been explored. Originally, the Green Fee was implemented with the idea of installing a wind turbine.

Unfortunately, setting up a 200 foot rotating propellor next to a university isn’t recommended.

“Wind turbines can be difficult to build in city limits, especially if the neighbors don’t like it,” Herbst said.

Still, some campus power comes from turbines. MSUM buys electricity through MPS, which generates some of its energy through the two 750 watt wind turbines behind Dilworth’s Walmart, as well as a neighboring 10 kilo watt solar array.

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