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College Students Lead Carbon Neutrality Effort with Massive Solar Installation

Dec. 28, 2012
Students at Southern Oregon University utilize a self-imposed fee for renewable energy generation.

A goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050 led students at Southern Oregon University (SOU) to push for a greater investment in renewable energy, using a self-imposed fee to support the university’s investments in renewable generation on campus.

Their efforts took a large step forward when the university purchased a 56 kW solar photovoltaic system that can produce more than 70,000 kWh per year, which was installed at its Higher Education Center.

The investment propelled the school toward LEED Platinum status and a commendation from the Department of Energy.

The three-story building is the result of a unique partnership between SOU and Rogue Community College, with both schools owning, operating, and occupying the facility. The two colleges lease the roof for the installation of the PV array, and the system is owned by Southern Oregon. Much of the cost of the system was covered by a grant from the Department of Education.

Designed to meet the solar system requirements developed by the Energy Trust of Oregon, the installation includes 319 crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules (each with 175W maximum power) and a 50 kW inverter. The equipment was installed in 29 strings of 11 modules at a 20-degree tilt on a rack system.

Installed as a retrofit, the system wasn’t anticipated in the education center’s design. New conduit pathways now stretch from the two roof levels to an electrical panel in the boiler room on the third floor, then to the electrical service room on the first floor, and finally to the electricity meter located in a walled outdoor enclosure south of the building. It required over 100 roof penetrations.

A solar monitoring package and weather station enable performance data to be displayed on an interactive touch-screen monitor in the building’s lobby. SOU also posts data online for educational purposes.

The building was highlighted as the fourth installment in the DOE’s “Clean Energy in Our Community” series.

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