October 2013 marked a milestone in the history of Eckerd due to the new renovations of the Environmental Studies building and Behavioral Science building, previously known as Sheen A and B. With these renovations, three solar panels were installed on the roof of the newly renovated Environmental Studies building, creating a new era of Eckerd College running partially on solar energy.
According to Sustainability Fellow Evan Bollier, the solar panels provide enough energy to power Sheen A and B, with the exception of the energy necessary for air conditioning that comes from the James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences. This solar energy is the first alternative energy to power Eckerd College.
Solar panels were previously installed at Eckerd next to the Galbraith Marine Science building. MIT graduate student Matt Orosz installed these panels as a prototype for a project he planned to install in Africa in order to power a small hospital. They are not in use and were never used to power the school.
The Sheen Center solar energy panels have been in operation for almost a year and have increased in productivity. According to Bollier, when the solar panels began operation, they were generating 3,000 Kilowatt hours (KWH). From November to December, the rate increased to 5,000 KWH. In May 2014, 9,000 KWH was being generated. In June, the generator was negatively impacted due to a lighting storm and the output was reduced to 4,000 KWH.
According to Bollier, a current estimate for the amount of energy being generated is 10,000 KWH. Estimates show that last fiscal year Eckerd College used 21,498,746 KWH from on the grid sources.
“We pride ourselves on being an environmentally friendly school,” Senior Emma Van Zandt said. “But [we] sometimes fall short like lights always being on in the molecular science building and power-washing the dorms.”
The installation of alternative energy is not cheap, but in future years can be extremely cost effective. According to Bollier, the entire alternative energy system cost Eckerd College $150,000. Eckerd has received $80,000 rebate from Duke Energy through their SunSense program.These savings have created a net cost for the system’s original installment of $70,000. The system is positively efficient and is currently saving $8,000 to $10,000 a year in electricity costs. Estimates show that in eight years the system will have paid for itself entirely through solar energy savings.
Bollier is excited about the positive progress of the solar panels. There are no current plans in place to install more panels such as these on campus, but hopefully more alternative energy will be used at Eckerd in the future.