Brandeis installs solar panels on library roof

January 19, 2018

The university installed new solar panels on the library roof this winter break. The panels generate 25 percent of the library’s electricity usage and have doubled the amount of solar power on campus.

The library now has 665 320-watt panels that produce 270,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity per year, according to an article from the Library and Technology Services (LTS) blog.

To acquire the panels, Brandeis entered a “Power Purchase Agreement” with Dynamic Energy Solutions, a solar company. Under the agreement, Dynamic designed the array and continues to own and maintain them, while Brandeis pays a fixed rate for electricity. The developer generally sells the solar-generated electricity for a lower cost than the local utility’s rate, according to Solar Energy Industries Association. “This gives Brandeis a lower, predictable fixed price for electricity, which is highly valuable for the overall University utilities budget,” according to the LTS blog post.

The university chose the library for solar arrays because “its roof is large and brand new,” which are qualities that make a location amenable to solar panels.

Brandeis’ ability to expand solar power has been limited by the quantity of available roof space. Approximately 46 percent of Brandeis’ buildings are more than 50 years old and 33 percent are between 25 and 50 years old, which can rule them out as candidate for solar arrays.

Solar energy can only produce a small percentage of campus electricity consumption, according to Brandeis’ most recent Climate Action Plan (CAP), released in 2016. “The average solar installation is only approximately 15% efficient,” according to the CAP, meaning the new panels could only account for between one and two percent of the campus electricity needs.

“Nevertheless, adding solar to campus is still an opportunity to show leadership, improve resilience, add renewable energy to the electric grid, and help reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere,” the CAP says.

With the addition of the library solar arrays, solar power comprises around 1.5 percent of campus electricity use, according to Mary Fischer, the campus sustainability coordinator.

There are also solar panels on the roof of the Gosman Gym, and there will be panels on the roof of the new residence hall on the site of Usen Castle. The new residence hall will be the most sustainable building on campus, according to the project summary. Solar panels will partially power the residence hall and “provide a small amount of carbon offsets against our carbon footprint inventory,” according to summary. Beyond solar, a 30-40 well geothermal system will heat and cool the dorm, making it the first building on campus to use geothermal energy.

The library consumes the ninth most energy of any campus building, 1,152,776 kwh in fiscal year 2016, according to numbers from Sustainable Brandeis. The number one energy consumer is the Shapiro Campus Center, using 5,108,064 kwh in 2016.

Brandeis reduced its carbon footprint by eight percent between fiscal years 2015-16, the first reduction in footprint since Brandeis signed a pledge in 2007 to reduce its energy consumption and move towards carbon neutrality.

As part of this pledge, the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, Brandeis released a climate action plan in 2009. However, the school’s carbon footprint increased by one percent between 2007 and 2015. As part of a renewed sustainability effort, President Lisa Lynch commissioned the President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability. This group released the new CAP in 2016 setting short term goals of “reducing our energy-related emissions by 10% by fiscal year (FY) 2018, and 15% by FY 2020, over a baseline of FY 2015 emissions.”

Community members can track how much energy the solar panels at the library and Gosman are producing by visiting an AlsoEnergy website.

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