UI business building will have solar panels

UI business building will have solar panels

CHAMPAIGN – Solar power will supply some of the energy for a new College of Business building.

The building will be the UI's first "green" or sustainable building, meaning it is designed to be more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Thanks to a $186,500 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the building will include solar panels on its auditorium roof.

The total cost of the solar power system is $373,000. The rest of the money for it will come from various sources on campus.

The building, which will be at the corner of Sixth Street and Gregory Drive, will be certified through the LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council. The heating and cooling system, energy-efficient lighting, and sensors that dim lights as more daylight enters a room are all part of the design elements that will make it an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent more efficient than a standard building.

But those features are largely invisible to someone looking at the building. The solar panels will be on the roof of the building's auditorium, which faces south and is a separate structure connected to the rest of the building. They will let people know the building is different, said Project Manager Jean Ascoli.

"It gives a very visible element of the sustainable quality of the building," Ascoli said. "There are a lot of elements in the building that will be ... energy-saving in terms of the mechanical design and will not be visible to passers-by, but these will be."

Ascoli said the solar panels will supply between 5 percent and 7.5 percent of the building's energy needs. They'll save nearly $3,000 per year in electricity costs, according to the grant proposal.

They'll also reduce the pollutants released with conventional energy production, such as burning coal, and provide research data on solar energy production and serve as an educational tool for the UI and the community on solar power.

UI materials science and engineering Professor Angus Rockett said solar panels can convert about 10 percent of the sunlight falling on them into electric power – roughly five times more efficient than the photosynthesis process of plants.

"A solar cell is a great way to produce electric power," he said, but added a homeowner would need a large solar array to meet power needs. A typical house using about 13 kilowatts of power would need panels about 12 yards by 12 yards to produce that much power during a bright sunny day, he said.

The solar panels on the business building will be about 3,700 square feet. Rockett said they will produce between 100 and 200 kilowatt hours per day, depending on the time of year. That means, at their most productive, they could supply power for 73 offices similar to Rockett's (eight 34-watt fluorescent lights) for 10 hours.

Rockett said solar panels are a "peak power" generating system, meaning it roughly matches human demand for power.

"You and I get out of bed when the sun goes up and most of our power use is while the sun is up," he said. "Our power use peaks about when sunlight peaks."

Providing power during peak periods – such as a hot summer day when everyone is running their air-conditioners – costs more than when demand is lower.

Solar panels can generate power when demand is highest and allow a consumer to draw less power from the electric grid.

While solar power is currently more expensive than other energy sources, it could be cost-effective for power companies to reduce peak summer loads, Rockett said.

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