Net-zero features: solar power

In previous blog posts, we explored the energy-saving features that will be instrumental to achieving the ECE building’s net-zero energy goal. Now, we move beyond the energy savings and explore the building’s strategy of energy creation in the form of solar power, this time speaking with Professor Philip Krein, the chair of the ECE new building committee.

Atop the new building’s roof will be a photovoltaic array facing south to capture sunlight that will be converted to electricity, feeding the building grid. In order to create enough energy to reach the department’s goal, another photovoltaic array will be placed on the roof of the nearby north campus parking garage. Together, these two arrays will deliver about 1500 kW at noon on a sunny day, and approximately as much energy over the course of the year as the building and its occupants consume.

Energy Chart

A chart of the new building’s net-zero energy features.

Beyond the purpose of energy creation toward the goal of reaching net-zero, the building’s photovoltaic array will also be an invaluable resource in the ECE classroom. Certain classes, like ECE 333: Green Electric Energy, will provide hands-on experience with photovoltaic technology to ECE students. These students will have the opportunity to explore green energy systems not just theoretically, but with an actual system that the department utilizes. Senior design projects and other classes in electric power and energy will also take advantage of the solar panels, with more opportunities in the future. “This is probably the largest solar array in the nation aimed at educational use,” says Krein.

In order to reach the department’s net-zero goals and integrate the photovoltaic arrays with the classroom experience as soon as possible, the committee targets the arrays’ completion to be within a year of the building’s opening, which is planned for Fall 2014. Alongside the passive and active energy savings features discussed in previous blog posts, the solar energy creation of the photovoltaic arrays will be essential for the department to reach its ambitious net-zero goal.