Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Solar panels spark USM’s movement toward sustainability

Posted on April 27, 2015 in News
By Zachary Searles

Earlier in the year, solar panels were installed on top of the Woodbury Campus center in Portland, sparking some questions. Where did they come from? Who paid for them?

Back in 2013, Dr. Fred Padula, professor emeritus of history, donated $50,000 to have solar panels installed in a visible location. Tyler Kidder, assistant director for sustainable programs, consulted Dr. Padula on where the panels should be placed.

“We wanted them in Portland, and wanted them to be very visible from around campus. Woodbury campus center was the best location,” said Kidder.

Some complications arose during the installation process of the panels.

“Unfortunately, Woodbury’s roof was in need of replacement before the solar panels could be installed,” said Kidd. “Much of the building has an old curved wooden roof, making solar installation nearly impossible on much of the surface.”

Because of these complications, the installation process was delayed a whole year while they waited for USM to replace the roof above the book store. This made it so more of the donated amount had to go to installation than originally planned.

“To this end, the solar array is smaller than it would have been if installed elsewhere, but also much more visible to passersby,” Kidder said.

Solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect, which is the creation of an electrical current in a material due to the exposure of light. This is considered to be a chemical physical phenomena.

As of now, there are no data on how much money is being saved in energy costs, but Kidder states that the panels are rated to generate 8.5 kW of power, meaning that in perfect sunny conditions, the panels could be generating as much as 11,400 kWh of electricity in a year.

Kidder did state that those are in perfect conditions and the panels will generally generate less due to conditions such as the angle of the sun or cloud coverage.

The panels themselves require very little maintenance unless something happens to them, like a fallen branch striking it, or there is a roof leak.

“In general, solar panels have an expected lifespan of 20 years. After that time, they tend to lose generation capacity and create less power,” said Kidder.

Kidder expressed that she was interested in seeing more panels installed around campus. “If we can get more solar panels installed, especially with affordable installations, we can make a dent in our energy consumption.”

At this point, there are four solar installations on campus: Woodbury, Abromson, which has 52 panels that were also donated by Dr. Padula, Sullivan Gym Solar Thermal, which was installed in 1982, and on the childcare/police station in Gorham.

“We are always interested in more partnerships,” said Kidder. “As solar becomes more and more affordable, it is definitely on our list of ways to lighten USM’s carbon footprint and reduce our energy costs.”

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