Davidson College embracing solar energy
by Staff Writer
Davidson College is using its 300 average days of sunshine a year for more than just a good tan.
In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and use sustainable energy, Davidson College is installing solar panels on the Baker Sports Complex to power the building and heat its water.
Installation will begin next month and should be completed by Dec. 31.
A $20,000 state grant will help fund the $60,000 project. The energy and heat the panels will generate will save the college $25,000 a year, according to a press release.
The N.C. Department of Commerce’s Energy division awarded this grant to Davidson College out of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
“These grants are intended to physically look at ways of developing alternative energy,” Davidson College Planning Manager Kris Krider said.
Former college president Tom Ross signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007 to raise awareness and bring the college closer to sustainability. That commitment requires colleges to plan alternative ways to generate heat and electricity.
The college hired an energy expert who helped figure out that in the North Carolina climate, with large, southern-facing roofs, solar panels could help accomplish those goals, Krider said.
Engineering firm Optima designed this system, and Southern Energy Management of Mooresville will install the panels.
Sixty-four solar thermal collector panels will hold glycol, a liquid conductor. Glycol will absorb heat from the sun, then run through pipes to heat the Cannon pool and showers in the Knobloch Tennis Center.
This technology isn’t new, Krider said, but it is getting more efficient. The cost of solar power is becoming competitive with other types of energy extraction.
The other 378 panels will generate electricity for the Baker Sports Complex. These photovoltaic panels will convert sunlight into electricity by absorbing photons and releasing neutrons, according to the press release.
In the event of prolonged cloud cover, conventionally generated electricity will still be available to power the building.
Davidson College has an opportunity to bring north Mecklenburg closer to sustainability.
“We have a perfect climate for it (solar panels), and I’m really excited that the college is taking the lead,” Krider said. “Electricity gets so expensive, we’re all going to look for other ways to turn our lights on.”
Davidson College is continuing to look for other ways to further reduce its use of fossil fuels.
Once the solar panels are up and running, the college will create an interactive digital display for the Baker lobby, Krider said. The dashboard would describe the solar panel electrical generation with film clips, photographs and a real-time energy production monitor.
“You’ll be able to see the panels from a distance, but it’s a big investment, and it’s important to tell people what we’re doing,” Krider said.
This display would educate athletic event attendants, campus guests and prospective students. Campus tours would include a stop at the display to discuss solar power and Davidson’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, Krider said.
Davidson College will also hold an energy symposium later this year. The symposium will explore the college’s commitment to energy, what it is doing well and how it can improve energy use.
The energy and heat produced from these solar panels will be measured, evaluated and reported back to the state as part of the grant’s requirements. Krider said staff will evaluate the performance of the solar panels to decide if it’s a good investment they should include on the college’s next new building.
The project went through the town of Davidson’s design review process with no problems, Krider said. The panels won’t be very visible from any public streets, and Krider said the town was supportive of the college’s sustainability efforts.
Other Davidson College students and faculty are working to uphold the climate commitment with programs ranging from composting unused dining hall food to planting campus gardens and selling farmers market food on a campus food cart.