Solar Panels

Washington University Solar Panels

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the project include?
The project includes the purchase and installation of six 170-watt solar panels of the roof of Olin Library, connection of the panels' output to the school's power supply through a grid-tie inverter, equipment to monitor power output, temperature, wind speed and other data, and a 5-year contract with Fat Spaniel to host and display our data on their web servers. Additionally, we have installed a touchscreen kiosk at the Environmental Engineering Science Program; the kiosk had been purchased for use during the university's Sesquicentennial and had remained unused during the past two years.
What was the idea behind the project?
The idea was to educate the campus community about renewable energy and climate change through on-campus solar panel installation and companion website.
Where does the power go?
The panels are connected to a grid-tie inverter on the roof, which converts the DC power produced by the panels to AC power usable by the university, and sends this power to the university's power grid. All of the power is used up instantaneously.
How did you decide how many panels to have? Isn't this a really tiny amount?
From the very beginning we wanted to have at least one kilowatt, which is the minimum a university must install in order for its installation to be considered a “Million Solar Roofs Installation” under the national Million Solar Roofs Program. Because the university's energy costs are very low and as a non-profit organization the university does not qualify for the substantial tax incentives available to individuals and for-profit organizations that install such systems, it is not actually economically efficient yet to install a larger system on campus. Our primary goal is education, and we believe that members of the campus community can get as much education from a 1 kilowatt installation as a 10 kilowatt installation. One kilowatt is approximately one third of what one might install to cover power requirements of a typical suburban home.
How much did this cost?
$16,186, through a contract with Cromwell Ramsey Environmental
Who paid for the project?
A little less than half of the costs were paid by the Committee on Environmental Quality. The Department of Facilities, Planning, and Management contributed $5000, the Environmental Engineering Science Program contributed $3000, Arts & Sciences contributed $500, Bon Appetit contributed $500, and Project Democracy contributed $100. The kiosk is on loan from NTS - Residential Technology Services.
Whose idea was this?
Multiple members of CEQ were interested in considering ways to educate the campus community about energy issues and climate change, possibly through the installation of renewable energy on campus. The project's form began to take shape after CEQ Chair Jonathan Lane found the website of the University of Vermont's Solar Energy Project, which shows their on-campus solar panel installation and provides live and cumulative data on the panels' output. He brought the site to the attention of the committee, and committee members were interested in pursuing something similar.
How did you decide who to work with?
Through an internet search of companies that were listed as doing solar panel installations in Missouri, we found one company that appeared to have significantly more experience than other local companies. We contacted them, and they worked with us and came up with a proposal that was exactly what we were looking for.
What about the pollution and energy involved in the manufacturing of photovoltaics?
Like with other manufactured goods, there is some pollution generated in the production of solar modules. However, we believe that the environmental costs of production are far outweighed by the environmental benefits provided by reduced fossil fuel consumption. Our solar modules come with a twenty-five year warranty, and we expect them to continue producing energy for at least that long with little to no additional pollution.
Shouldn't we be focusing on energy efficiency and energy conservation?
Yes, energy conservation and energy efficiency are both extremely important, and should be actively promoted. CEQ has other initiatives which focus in these areas. However, renewable energy will be a key part of developing a sustainable modern society, and so that's why we wanted to bring some to campus.
What are some online resources for learning more about solar panels?
There are many good relevant sites, including US Department of Energy, How Stuff Works, and Find Solar.
How can I get involved in CEQ?
There is a formal appointment process to become an official member of CEQ, but we welcome the attendance and participation of all interested members of the university community. Send an E-mail to CEQ Chair Jonathan Lane at jonathanlane [at] wustl.edu for more information.