By Hilary Smith, Sustainability Resource Center
Since July, a 37.8 kilowatt solar energy system has been hard at work on top of the Marriott Library, churning out some 8.9 megawatt hours of energy to date, generating enough electricity to power an average home for a year. It’s a stunning, 126-panel rooftop array, framed against the foothills to the East, and the stadium and the bustle of the city to the West.
It’s a system that few students, staff, or faculty ever get to see.
Now, thanks to a project envisioned by recent U of U grad Tom Melburn, real-time data from the library rooftop solar system will soon be made available to the public, in the form of a digital “dashboard”— an informational site that describes the data using easy-to-understand statistics. The dashboard soon will be displayed on digital kiosks throughout Marriott Library, and will also be available on a public web site, said Ian Godfrey, Marriott’s Director of Library Facilities.
One section of the dashboard displays energy production history, in the form of bar and line graphs, for the current day, most recent two days, last week and last month.
Another section details sPower’s estimated, easy-to-understand environmental equivalents, such as the following:
-The library’s solar system has produced enough energy to prevent the release of 3 tons of CO2—an amount that would take an acre of trees to absorb.
-The energy produced by the system equates to 6,241 miles not driven by a passenger car.
-It would take 326 gallons of gasoline or 5 barrels of oil to generate as much energy as this system has produced to date.
About 45 staff, students, faculty, and community members gathered in Marriot Library’s Gould Auditorium last Monday afternoon for the unveiling of the dashboard, a project which “reflects [the U’s] commitment to sustainability,” says Interim Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth, as well as the importance of student participation in the campus sustainability movement. Projects like Melburn’s “contribute to our work in walking the walk of sustainability,” says Wildermuth. “We want to use our campus as a living lab.”
Wildermuth discussed the campus’s broad-scale commitment to solar energy, citing the recent U Community Solar program, which allowed members of the U of U community to purchase solar systems at discounted rates, and to arrange for simplified, streamlined installation. To date, 380 solar systems have been installed through U Community Solar.
The library’s solar panel array is the seventh, and fourth-largest solar system on campus to date, with more in the works.
Lisa Romney, representing Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Renewable Energy Program—a program in which Rocky Mountain Power customers contribute to the purchase of renewable energy for the grid, while supporting community renewable projects like Marriott Library’s—presented a check to the library for $58,900 at Monday’s ceremony.
Melburn expressed his gratitude to the other students and organizations who worked to make the dashboard a reality. “I’m extremely happy and proud to see the University taking steps toward becoming a more sustainable institution, and for showing what is possible for students to do,” he says. He says his inspiration for the project was simply seeing the magnitude of global climate change in recent years.
The project was funded by a consortium of sponsors: ASUU, Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Renewable Energy Program, sPower, and the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF).
Currently, Marriott Library’s solar array provides about 0.6 percent of the library’s energy needs. The rooftop solar array is just one of many of the library’s recent efforts to both reduce energy consumption and employ energy from renewable sources. A few of the library’s recent sustainability-related measures include high efficiency aerators on restroom faucets, daylight-sensitive lighting controls in the atrium and level three study areas, and the replacement of more than 700 compact fluorescent and halogen lamps with more efficient and long-lasting LED bulbs.
Hilary Smith is a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center. She is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities.