Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Building in line to get DU’s first solar power system

The roof of Cherrington Hall may get the first solar power system in the University’s history.

If the agreement is finalized, the solar array would provide about 23 percent of the power consumed by Cherrington and the two additions that are slated to begin construction in late summer.

“We’re going to generate some carbon-free electricity on campus and on top of it we’re gonna save some money,” says Jeff Bemelen, director of facilities, who is negotiating the arrangement.

The goal of the program is to install the solar system in conjunction with renovations to Cherrington and construction of the two additions, a 5,460-square-foot wing on the south side of the building and a 1,656-square-foot addition to the addition.

The larger structure is to house the Institute for Sino-American International Dialogue, a think tank for influencing American and Chinese policy on energy, water and environmental issues. The smaller portion is for the Pardee Center for International Futures at the Graduate School of International Studies.

If the system is installed, it would convert the Cherrington rooftop into a sea of 423 rectangular photovoltaic panels, each producing about 175 watts of power. On days when Cherrington is active the solar power would feed into the building’s electrical system and be used to operate lights, run motors and power computers. When demand for electricity is reduced, the power from the system would feed back to Excel Energy, which would credit DU.

“Either we use the power or it goes back into the grid,” Bemelen says. “The system isn’t big enough for storage.”

Installing the solar array is largely symbolic, Bemelen points out, because the cost and practicality of relying entirely on solar is prohibitive.

“We use close to 48 million kilowatt hours a year. This array will provide 109,000 [kwh],” he says. Installing solar panels on every flat roof on campus as well as part of the northeast parking lot would provide “slightly less than 5 percent of what we use on an annual basis.”

“[Solar] takes a lot of space, and it’s very expensive,” he adds. Nevertheless, he says the Cherrington solar project has received support from Chancellor Robert Coombe, so negotiations with solar equipment providers are proceeding.

Under the agreement being discussed, the University would lease the solar equipment for eight years then buy it outright. Over 20 years, Bemelen estimates, DU could save as much as $50,000.

In addition to the savings, the University would have a chance to evaluate the equipment and slightly reduce the amount of energy it draws from carbon-producing generation systems.

The down side, he says, is how the top of Cherrington Hall would look.

“You’ll see equipment [on the roof],” he says, “but students will see green power.”

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