Denison’s new solar panels produce electrical energy to power school

CASEY TRIMM – Denison is constantly searching for new ways to reduce our campus’s energy consumption and make sustainability improvements in order to lessen our carbon footprint. Through a system of nearly 7,000 solar panels, Denison hopes to eventually use the power produced to fuel the initiative to go green!

Starting in late July through August, an array of solar panels were installed at Denison. The array is split into two sub-arrays. The first is by the red recycling barn and is about 300kW (kilowatts) in size and is comprised of about 900 panels. The second sub-array, which is about 2,000kW, contains nearly 6,000 panels and is behind the baseball and softball fields on a plot of land that spans from the southeast corner of the bio reserve to another area of land that Denison owns.

Both arrays have single access tracking, which means that the panels follow the sun over the course of a day by rotating from east to west.

The array should offset about 10-15% of Denison’s electric usage and reduce our carbon footprint by a similar amount. To put this into perspective, Denison’s annual electric usage last year was about 19,000Wh (watt-hours) and the array will produce about 3,000MWh (megawatt-hours) of power annually.

According to Jeremy King ‘97, Director of Sustainability and Campus Involvement, this new solar array is, “… a big step toward Denison’s 2030 goal of carbon neutrality and is a visible sign of our commitment to sustainability. Over their lifetime, these panels will save the college money and significantly reduce our carbon footprint.”

The array is still under construction, as they are still working on all the wiring and connections to Denison’s electric grid. The array size was specifically designed to match the base electric load on campus. This means that Denison will essentially be using all of the power produced by the array and not feed it back onto the electric grid.

Denison also plans to replant the area in and around the solar array with native wildflowers and grasses that will serve as a pollinator habitat. Denison is working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as a number of other organizations. This is all a part of the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, which aims to create and improve pollinator habitats all across the state of Ohio.

Denison doesn’t own the array nor has it paid for the construction of it. American Electric Power OnSite Energy Partners owns the array and through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), Denison has agreed to buy 100% of the power produced by the array. This avoids capital costs of building and owning the array. The deal is for 25 years, through which Denison has the option of buying the array.

Faculty and students will have access to all the power production data from the array for research and class work. They will also be able to have access to the smaller array and tour the facility for class and other research related activities.

“Hopefully by the time I graduate, I’ll be able to explore the data collected by the solar panels in one of my classes and see how the grids function. I’m really interested with how these panels will further solar technologies at Denison and eventually cut back our campus electrical usage,” said Rochell Issa ‘18, a biology major from Toledo.

If all goes accordingly, the construction should be done by December. This big step in going green goes to show the priority of energy saving that Denison has. Although it would be an overbearing task for students and faculty to take on a project as big as an array of solar panels, we can each take small steps in our daily lives to help preserve and protect the earth.

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