Renewable Energy at WashU

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The Office of Sustainability’s renewable energy student associates focuses on bringing sustainable sources of power generation to WashU. To-date, the University’s renewable energy work has focused on the installation of solar panels on university-owned buildings and property throughout the region. Several buildings are already equipped with solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal systems, and solar-ready design is an important consideration as we design new and renovated buildings. Currently, WashU has 580 kW of solar PV generating capacity installed on our properties. Notable installations include 75 kW (300 panels) of PV solar on North campus, another 50kW of PV on Hillman Hall, and 75 kW of PV at the Loop Lofts. Both Hillman Hall and the Loop Lofts have solar thermal installations that heat water used in sinks, showers, and dishwashers.

Following the University’s recent release of the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan for Sustainable Operations, the renewable energy student team has been working to align its projects with the goals set out in the plan. The team’s efforts to develop renewable energy projects will contribute to the university’s long-term goal of charting a part toward carbon neutrality over the decades ahead. Their current work is highlighted below:

  • A number of up-coming building projects are exploring opportunities for on-site solar energy generation, including the buildings that are part of the enhancements to the east end of the Danforth Campus. The project teams are evaluating a range of technologies, including solar panels that integrate both PV and thermal components into a single module that generates more renewable energy per square foot of roof space than either solar thermal or PV panels on their own. The student team has been researching technical details about the technologies under consideration.
  • In the months ahead, the University will be developing solar-ready guidelines for new construction and major renovation that will identify key considerations necessary to support future installations. For example, factors such as building orientation, shading, roof obstructions, and overall mechanical and electrical configuration can greatly impact the potential for future solar installations. Solar-ready guidelines will help maximize the size of future solar installations, where appropriate, and reduce the installation costs. The student team is researching best practices and developing draft content.
  • The students are also supporting faculty members studying the feasibility and market need for a global network of solar PV test facilities that would bring together global partners in industry and academia.
  • In addition to these long-term goals, the team is developing a mini microgrid to educate the general WashU community about solar technology. A portable solar charging circuit, the microgrid consists of a foldable solar panel connected to a 12 volt battery and a series of charging ports. Students passing by the display can get a quick charge for their cell phones or tablets while learning how solar technology works and the benefits of renewable energy.

This article was written by the Student Associates Deko Ricketts, Taylor Blevin, and Sade Odumuye, with staff support.