What started with an idea shared by five Knox College students in a class, and eventually funded by the entire student body, has grown to become the College's first solar power installation. Based on the first month of actual usage, newly installed solar panels on Wilson House are already meeting more than 85% of the average electricity needs for the building.
"This originated in an environmental studies course, and five of us in the class continued the planning in a joint independent study project," said Sofia Tagkaloglou '17. Currently president of Knox's Student Senate, Tagkaloglou was one of five students who proposed the installation more than two years ago.
"It's a great example of an academic-driven student initiative to make environmental changes on campus," Tagkaloglou said. The other students who worked on the planning with Tagkaloglou were Morgan Madderom '17, Sean Treacy '17, Madeline Ferber '16 and Jonathan Henry Glazer.
Working first in class, and then in an independent study course, both taught by Environmental Studies Professor Peter Schwartzman, the students researched other solar installations, vendors, technology, costs, and benefits.
The location on the Wilson House, a brick bungalow that houses a single classroom, was selected after consultation with Sustainability Director Deborah Steinberg and Facilities Director Scott Maust.
Just before the start of the current academic year, the 26 panels were installed on the roof of the building at the corner of South and West Streets.
The $40,000 cost was funded entirely by Knox students through the "Green Fee," a part of the regular student activity fee that's dedicated to projects related to sustainability.
"This project is a great educational resource for all students to better understand their consumption patterns, and especially for those concerned with energy use," Tagkaloglou said.
Instead of a traditional ribbon-cutting, Tagkaloglou and Knox College President Teresa Amott led a group of students and staff in a ceremonial "unplugging" in September to celebrate completion of the project and symbolize the larger goal of switching from non-renewable to renewable energy sources.
Steinberg is closely monitoring the panels' output via a web-based interface. She reports a first full month of data has now been collected, and the panels produced a daily average of 3.3-kilowatt-hours in September. That's more than 85% of the building's daily usage for lights, environmental control, and computer technology during an average September.
"Whatever we're not using at the time is fed back into the 'grid.' If there's a surplus, we'll be paid for it," Steinberg said.
Because the single-classroom building represents less than 1% of Knox's overall electricity usage, Steinberg said the solar panels on Wilson House are intended as an experiment, not a money-maker. "If it works here, we know that we can scale up to larger places on campus."
Above, a campus group celebrates completion of the project with a ceremonial "unplugging"; below, employees of StraightUp Solar install the panels.