College to add eight new solar panels installations

by John Fulton | 4/27/18 2:35am

Beginning mid-June, Dartmouth will be installing new solar panels on eight buildings on campus. Photovoltaic arrays will be added to the roofs of the Class of 1953 Commons and Fahey-McLane, Kemeny-Haldeman, McLaughlin, Moore, Russell-Sage, Silsby and Sudikoff halls. Three campus buildings — Berry Sports Center, Davis Varsity House and MacLean Engineering Sciences Center — already underwent solar installations last October.

The decision to add solar installations to campus buildings follows a report by the College’s Sustainability Task Force, according to environmental studies professor and Sustainability Task Force co-chair Andrew Friedland. The report, entitled “Our Green Future: The Sustainability Road Map For Dartmouth,” was released last April and proposed moving to 50 percent of campus energy from renewable sources by 2025 and 100 percent by 2050.

Friedland said that the report’s “biggest recommendation, because it’s the biggest part of Dartmouth’s carbon footprint, was [transitioning away from] the [use of] No. 6 fuel oil, [which is a dense, viscous mixture produced by blending heavy residual oils with a lighter oil], ... at the power plant.”

In order to facilitate this transition away from No. 6 fuel oil, the report suggested increasing the College’s solar capabilities, pursuing wind power and reducing the energy consumption of campus food systems, Friedland said.

The eight installations this summer will generate about three times as much energy as the three arrays already in place, director of engineering and utilities Abbe Bjorklund said. Despite the increase, however, she added that once all eight systems are online, solar power will only cover about 1.5 percent of the College’s total energy needs.

While that percentage may seem insignificant, the solar installations will have a tangible impact on the College’s energy expenses, according to Dan Weeks, director of market development for ReVision Energy, the firm Dartmouth contracted to install the arrays. According to Weeks, the installations will yield substantial savings for the College over a period of decades.

“These projects will add in the millions of dollars in money saved over their installed life,” he said. “That’s based on conservative projections of grid energy costs.”

Each roof’s solar installation will take an average of two weeks to complete, Weeks said.

Bjorklund said that the College plans to continue expanding its solar capabilities and will include solar technologies in many of its upcoming building projects. She noted that there are plans to place panels on the renovated Dana Hall, the new joint building for the computer science department and the Thayer School of Engineering and existing older buildings once their roofs get replaced.

Ultimately, however, the College hopes to eventually focus less on rooftop solar installations and instead on larger, more efficient ground-mounted arrays, Bjorklund said.

“We have been studying our options, and I suspect that will be the next project,” she said. “[It will be] a larger-scale ground mount that will provide a much larger percentage of our campus energy use.”

Bjorklund added that potential locations for such an installation have been identified, but declined to go into specifics since plans have not yet been finalized.

Before the installation of solar panels could begin, the College spent several months determining which campus buildings would be viable candidates for rooftop solar arrays, according to Bjorklund. She said the main eligibility criteria included proper orientation for good solar exposure and ensuring that the age and condition of each roof could safely and efficiently accommodate a solar installation.

“We don’t want to put solar panels on a roof that we’re going to have to take them off of to do work on the roof,” Bjorklund said. “Then also, structurally, will the roof be able to support the panels?”

The College ultimately identified eight buildings on campus that were well-suited to solar installations. According to Bjorklund, these eight buildings are ready for installations.

“We’ve done a pretty comprehensive look at all the buildings on campus and have shortlisted these eight as our Priority 1 group that are good to go,” Bjorklund said.

According to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin, Dartmouth’s commitment to expanding its solar capabilities is a major step in the right direction of environmental sustainability.

“The town is really excited that Dartmouth is putting solar on so many of its buildings’ rooftops,” Griffin said. “We think it’s a great idea — we’re putting solar wherever we can and we’re excited the College is also pursuing that.”

While she agreed that solar energy’s impact on the College’s total energy needs is currently minimal, Griffin expressed confidence in the College’s trajectory with regard to renewable energy, noting that incremental progress is still a positive development.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, but we’ve got to start somewhere,” she said. “It’s important progress on the College’s part.”

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