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Efforts to explore new ways for commercial and institutional facilities to implement energy efficient strategies and tactics are never-ending.
As spring returns to campus across the country, University of Wisconsin-Madison has another reason to look forward to sunny weather. Following a year of research, project development, partnership building, and coordination, the Gordon Dining & Event Center now features a solar array on its roof that is projected to produce 42,800 kWh of electricity a year, or the energy use of five typical Wisconsin homes. All electricity produced by the panels will directly power the building, according to a statement from the university.
The solar array will provide University Housing with approximately $1,340 net annual income from renewable electricity production, resulting in at least $35,600 net income over the 30-year life of the system.
University Housing, already a sustainability leader on campus, saw an ideal opportunity to expand its green infrastructure. Mark Mueller, who is maintenance and grounds supervisor for Gordon Dining & Event Center, was instrumental in bringing the solar array to fruition. “I like challenges no matter how hard they can be,” Mueller says. “We have a big impact with students due to the amount that stay and eat in our facilities, and it’s important that we lead by example.”
Helios, a student ran organization, saw the opportunity to showcase renewable electricity so that other students could understand its potential in their everyday lives. “I think the most impactful part of the project will be the educational aspect,” suggested Helios co-founder Zach Galvin. “A lot of students on campus think solar is a good idea, but far fewer think it’s actually practical. When students are looking at the panels—which will be visible from the finished Nick—or when they are looking at the solar dashboard, I think it will start to change people’s minds about solar.”
Helios continues to pursue opportunities to engage and educate fellow students about renewable energy. In addition, Helios is working with University Housing to upgrade dining and residence halls to energy-efficient LED lighting.
In the meantime, the new solar array on the top of Gordon Dining & Event Center will continue its quiet and essential work: absorbing the sun’s rays and helping UW-Madison on its ongoing journey to a more sustainable campus.
Ryan Berlin is digital content manager of Facilitiesnet.com.