Solar Panels

VU will soon be welcoming more light onto campus with a new set of solar panels on Gellersen Engineering and Mathematics Center. The latest in a series of cost-cutting, energy-reducing measures by the university, the solar panels are the second to be added on campus, after Fites in 2011. The power generated is a 75KW array that should be completed by early Oct.

The project was initiated when two VU alumni, who wish to remain anonymous, donated $200,000 for the cause. 

“We were lucky enough that a donor reached out, and they told us that they wanted a solar project to be done on campus. It’s something that we’ve always been interested in, but because we got a donation from that donor, it made it possible,” said Project Manager Julie Whitaker, coordinator of the Office of Sustainability.

According to Dr. Eric Johnson, dean of the College of Engineering, Gellersen was chosen for the project due to the new roof installed five years ago.

As far as how much energy will now be run through solar power, “The amount that this new set of solar panels is going to offset is there’s a peak demand, so it’ll offset any peak demands that we have and it’ll take the place of a quarter of our electrical usage. So between that and the Fites, it really does help a lot in terms of trying to cut down on the amount of electricity that we use,” Johnson said.

According to Johnson, this “peak demand” is the highest amount of electricity that is being used, such as if all the lights and computers are on at one time. Oftentimes, power companies charge an extra fee for high amounts and so by keeping it low, these costs can be avoided.

For students in engineering, the new development comes with several opportunities. 

“Both the project on Fites and this project will have what’s called a ‘dashboard,’ and it’ll show the amount of energy that the solar panels are producing by day and then overall, andstudents can see how much energy is being produced and used in our system,” Johnson said. “We also have a course on sustainability, and they [students in mechanical engineering] can learn about solar engineering and how much more solar energy we need to make it totally emission-free or carbon-free. We’re good stewards of the environment, and it’s good to promote that among our engineering students.”

VU has also undertaken other measures as part of a larger goal in energy-saving.

“The university has been for energy reductions, and we have a whole energy department on campus that reviews every building and every possible way that we can save energy,” Whitaker said. “We’ve done LED retrofits, we’ve added sensors, so lights turn off when it doesn’t sense anybody in the room. We’ve been doing that all over campus already, so this is something that they [VU] approve and that is seeing a great return on savings.”

As a whole, the Office of Sustainability claims to be doing well on the expenses. However, they hope the impact will be greater.

“The benefits of having solar [are] there’s cost savings, there’s so much great collaboration and training opportunities for students and it’s just an endless source of clean, efficient energy,” Whitaker said. “That’s the most important thing, is it’s coming from the sun so it’s so effective in that manner.”

Regardless of what the impacts may be at first, the end goal is a bright future for Valpo. 

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