Solar array set to light up UCC campus

in Campus Life by

UCC will be constructing its first solar array as part of an ongoing energy efficiency overhaul for the campus. According to Jess Miller, director of UCC facilities, the installation will feature 36 kilowatts of installed power but the electrical framework and inverters will be designed to deal with 300 kilowatts of installed power. This will allow the array to be expanded to provide up to approximately 10 percent of UCC’s yearly electricity consumption.

The project was initiated as part of the Health, Nursing, and Science building project.

“We have to meet 1.5 percent of construction costs of that building in solar. That’s an Oregon law.” Miller said.

The photovoltaic installation will be located below the tennis courts once the Riverview modules are no longer needed. This placement will allow the electric framework put in place for the modules to be used to feed solar energy into upper UCC buildings such as the Tech Center.

“I purposely picked the spot so that we could expand in an area that wouldn’t be conventional building ground.” Miller said.

Miller said that Newcastle Solar, a local company in Myrtle Creek that has worked on multiple solar projects in Douglas County, will be installing the solar panels while Reynolds Electric will be contracted for the high voltage circuiting aspect of the array.

A unique aspect of solar installations on college campuses is their capacity to provide a practical educational opportunity for students in the fields of science, engineering, technology, and computer science.

Mick Davis, a UCC physics instructor, said his students could possibly take advantage of the solar array for their final term projects.

“We could turn it into individual projects, from the solar absorption and production of voltage in the PV cell all the way down the line to storage and circuitry and analyzing the total output,” Davis said. “And included in those projects would be the students researching all the components of the array.”

Sean Breslin, a chemistry instructor at UCC, also said the array would represent a valuable opportunity for his students to study semiconductor chemistry in a practical setting.

Solar energy is rapidly spreading in educational institutions around the U.S. in face of decreasing panel costs, increased academic concern on the effect of non-renewable energy sources on climate change, and the energy savings benefits.

“We’re tying that [the solar array] into a program that we started recently which is called the strategic energy management program, (SEM)” Miller said. “There’s people from the department of energy that keep track and make sure that we’re mapping our progress.”

As part of the SEM program, Miller has overseen the installation of LED lighting and other energy saving systems such as electric heaters and lighting for the gymnasium that only uses half power except during games and coaching sessions. Miller said he is also looking to install energy efficient and broader LED outdoor lighting for the campus grounds, in order to cut costs and increase safety.

The Energy Trust of Oregon, accompanied by a filming crew from Sheepscot Creative, came out on the UCC campus on Feb. 24 to get footage of the energy initiatives on campus.