Solar Shade Umbrellas Recharge Community Space in Fort Douglas

 By Alicia Wrigley-Gailey, Office of Sustainability

Campus residents will soon have a new space to recharge—both personally and electronically—thanks in part to a Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) project.

In the coming weeks, ground will be broken for a new outdoor gathering area near the Shoreline Ridge Student Apartments. The space, which will feature tables, seating, and a natural gas fire pit, will be covered by eight umbrella-like shade structures made of 32 solar panels. Energy gathered by the panels will be available in outlets at the base of the structures for students to plug in laptops or equipment for outdoor cooking. Energy not used at the site will be redirected back to the power grid and will help reduce Housing and Residential Education’s power bill.

The project will be built on the site of an unused playground, left over when the Shoreline Ridge Apartments were converted from family housing to apartments for single students. Management at Housing and Residential Education (HRE) had been planning for some time to convert the space into a gathering area for Shoreline Ridge Apartments, which have no communal spaces. Originally, they planned to build a wooden shade structure. 

Barb Remsburg, director of Housing and Residential Education, said they decided to tweak the design after Myron Willson, director of the Office of Sustainability, suggested incorporating a solar element into the design. Jenna Matsumura, a junior in environmental and sustainability studies and residence advisor at Shoreline Ridge, was excited by Willson’s idea and applied for SCIF funding to buy solar panels for the shade structures. 

A rendering of the proposed project, courtesy of Housing and Residential Education.

A rendering of the proposed project, courtesy of Housing and Residential Education.

Photovoltaic panels are becoming more and more common at the U, but the Shoreline Ridge plaza will be unique in two ways.

First, the photovoltaic panels themselves are different from most used around campus. In most cases, there is a roofing material and PV panels are placed on top. But the Sanyo 195 Bifacial PV panels that will be used in the new solar plaza are encased in a layer of glass. Incorporating the solar element into the structure of the roof allows the panels to be double sided; like most PV panels, they collect energy on top from the sun, but also yield extra power by using the underside of the panel to collect solar energy reflected off the ground.

Secondly, the plaza will be the first place on campus where students can directly interact with a solar installation instead of just seeing it.

The finished project will generate about 9,000 kilowatts of power each year, which translates to a $625 annual power savings for HRE. But more than that, Remsburg said, the project creates exposure for sustainability and solar power, and helps integrate that into the college experience of student residents.

Such a project was exciting to the SCIF allocation committee, which has been interested for several years in funding a project that uses solar power in an innovative way. In 2011, they planned to purchase Solar Ivy, small photovoltaics that look like leaves, to cover exterior walls of Orson Spencer Hall. However, due to some complications from the manufacturer, that project was never able to get off the ground. Now, $35,000 originally intended for the Solar Ivy will be used to purchase the solar panels that will make up the shade umbrellas at the Shoreline Ridge Plaza.

The remainder of the project’s nearly $400,000 price tag will be paid by various sources, including donated design services from architecture firm of alumnus Tracy Stocking, donated contracting from Cameron Construction, Residence Halls Association dues, rebates from Rocky Mountain Power, and funds from HRE.

Matsumura said this cooperation between entities was impressive to her. 

“It was optimistic to see how many people supported this project, and that what I do in the classroom can happen outside the classroom,” Matsumura said.

Remsburg and Matsumura anticipate that the project will be completed in the spring, once the winter snow melts.

SCIF is the University of Utah’s green-grant initiative. The grant, which is funded by student fees, provides students with an opportunity to receive money to implement projects that help promote a culture of sustainability on campus. There are two funding cycles each year – one in the fall and one in the spring. Application for the next funding cycle will be due in February 2014.

 Alicia Wrigley-Gailey is a senior in Communication and Jazz Performance. She is a Sustainability Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability.

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