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Updated 11:30 AM December 6, 2004




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Dana Building finds its place in the sun with solar panels

Solar panels are being installed in the Dana Building to explore the benefits and limitations of solar power as an alternative energy source.
Solar panels on the roof of the Dana Building will allow a comparison of the advantages of two different types of panels. (Photo courtesy SNRE)

The solar panel system will be a unique educational tool for the University community, says Dean Rosina Bierbaum. With completion in spring 2005, the solar panels will be on top of the skylights of the south roof of the Dana Building. The photovoltaic (PV) array being used converts light energy into direct current (DC) electricity, which is then converted into AC (alternating current) power. This AC power will be fed directly into an electric panel in the building for immediate use.

Although the system will not produce nearly enough energy for the Dana Building to function completely from solar power, the amount of energy created will be substantial enough to support valid research.

"This project is another example of how within our own facilities SNRE puts into practice the principles we teach in the classroom," Bierbaum says. "It's one more step in our 'Greening of Dana' project to renovate our building in a way that is consistent with our values and history."

The purpose of this project is to compare the advantages of two different types of solar panels, says Yoshiko Hill, manager of electrical engineering and energy management for the University's Utilities and Plant Engineering department. A thin film technology made by United Solar Ovonic Corp. (Uni-Solar) will be compared against crystalline panels made by Kyocera.

The initial project cost is $265,000, and the benefits of this solar technology are long-term, Bierbaum says. Some of these advantages include reducing pollution and encouraging the use of a completely renewable and free energy source.

Installation of a large-screen display inside the Dana Building will report the amount of energy being produced and used. The screen also will provide information about how the technology works. It will serve as an educational tool for both the casual observer and researchers gathering and monitoring data from the PV system.

Due to constant changes in technology, the system may need to be upgraded. The structure being installed should allow for such changes, Bierbaum says.

An extensive renovation of the Dana Building was completed in 2003, in time for the school's 100th anniversary. The project design, which incorporated a variety of environmentally friendly features, originally included the solar panels. Budget concerns at the time delayed their installation, but SNRE continued to pursue other funding sources.

Donations from foundations and businesses eventually made the panel installation possible. Ballard Power Systems donated the inverter, which converts direct current electricity into a useable form—alternating current power. The manufacturer of the solar panels, Uni-Solar, is providing the engineering design for installation of the system.

The Wege Foundation, a major benefactor of SNRE, is funding the purchase of the PV array hardware, research and the support of an SNRE graduate student. Plant Operations' Utilities and Plant Engineering department will cover the rest of the expenses, which include research, installation, engineering project management and educational outreach costs.

The Wege Foundation previously has provided significant funding to the school through the Center for Sustainable Systems and the National Pollution Prevention Center, says Diana Neering, director of development and alumni relations for SNRE. Prior contributions include a $1.5 million endowment of the Peter M. Wege Chair of Sustainable Systems at SNRE and more than $600,000 supporting the Center for Sustainable Systems.

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