The Gund Commons solar installation project, which has been in the works since before the pandemic, will be completed by the end of this week. Students in the spring 2020 Solar Power Systems (ENVS 104) class partially designed and oversaw the plan for this project before it was delayed, first due to the pandemic and then because of COVID-19-related budget constraints. Third Sun Solar, a solar installation company, began work installing the panels on Apr. 18 and completed the installation on May 6. They returned this week to connect the non-functioning panels to the proper electrical infrastructure in order to officially complete the project.
The delay between May and now was a result of plans for the Office of Campus Safety to move their office to Gund Commons. In order to support this transition, the College recently installed a generator in Gund Commons, and decided not to energize the solar panels until this happened. Otherwise, the panels would have had to be connected to the electrical infrastructure two separate times.
In the Solar Power Systems class, taught by Assistant Professor of Physics and Scientific Computing Eric Holdener and Jerry Kelly ’96, students develop a detailed understanding of solar panel technology and of the solar industry in general. Throughout the semester, the class goes on a number of field trips on and off campus to evaluate different sites for solar panels and, for their final project, selects a site for a new solar installation.
According to Director of Green Initiatives David Heithaus, where the new panels are installed each semester depends partly on the budget that is determined each year by the Board of Trustees. The Gund Commons installation is unique from the class’s past projects because part of its funding came from the West Quad’s Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification, which awards certifications for sustainable construction projects. As a result, while the previous projects together constituted a 40-kilowatt system, Gund Commons will be a 60-kilowatt system.
According to Kelly, in past semesters the class has designed and installed systems for the Kenyon Farm, the Village Inn, the Village Market and the Hoehn-Saric House, as well as for the residences of some local community members. These projects have not only provided students with hands-on experience, but have also increased awareness of solar energy options. “We now get two, three, four or five calls every year from people in the community who say, ‘Hey, can you can you include me in this? Can you come out and look at my roof, my barn and tell me if I’m a candidate for putting panels up?’” Holdener said.
Now that the Gund Commons panels will be fully functioning, Holdener believes that they will serve as a visual reminder of the College’s sustainability efforts. “It tells the community that we’re committed to renewable energy and [that] solar energy is a viable way of going about that,” he said.
Heithaus reiterated that the solar panels are currently more symbolic than anything else. “These are great demonstration projects,” he said. “They’ve obviously proven themselves to be of value [through] the number of students who go on to be in the solar industry, which is an exciting and growing field right now. I think that also, we need to not pat ourselves on the back so very hard, because you’ve got a very, very long way to go in terms of addressing the climate impact of our electrical use. So, great class, great start, let’s keep going.”