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Sustainability at Wake Forest

Posts Tagged ‘Solar’

Solar Consortium Looks to Harness Energy

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Solar energy advances in North Carolina

Rolling into the second year of the Triad Interuniversity Planning Project (TIPP) Grant, the project also entered phase two: collect sunlight in a more cost effective way, capture leftover waste heat, and convert the heat into usable energy. The Solar Consortium, a group of experts from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University, N.C. A&T State University, and UNC Greensboro, has high expectations, which they are working collaboratively to meet. The overarching goal of the project is to decrease costs and increase efficiency of solar energy. The team foresees potential contributions to increased national security and economic opportunity, in the long term.

Learn more about the exploratory project in an article from the Winston-Salem Journal.

Reynolda Gardens’ Greenhouses Go Green

Friday, April 12th, 2013

2013-02-14_16-24-31_689 (Large)solar panelIt only seems appropriate to mark the anniversary of the Reynolda Gardens’ greenhouses and conservatory with a modern addition. Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds set out over a hundred years ago to use Reynolda Gardens as a model of self-sufficiency for local gardeners and, even more,for the community.

These values are similarly shared with the larger community of Wake Forest University, whose motto is “Pro Humanitate,” which is translated as “for the betterment of humanity.” Ravish Paul, Energy Manager for the university, says his office is “always on the lookout for opportunities that benefit all.” Therefore, the decision to put solar panels on the education wing at Reynolda Gardens was not just a small demonstration of solar energy potential for the university, but also an opportunity to “educate and encourage the community to invest in a living which is in harmony with nature,” according to Paul.

During the spring 2011 semester, students in Physics and Chemistry of the Environment (PHY/ CHM 120) researched and reported on a variety of energy efficiency and alternative energy proposals for the greenhouse education wing. Among the recommendations was a report on the feasibility of a solar photovoltaic installation. Based in part on this hands-on learning exercise, Professor Richard Williams secured a donation of a solar photovoltaic array for the gardens. Though the donation did not match up with the specific requirements of the historic structure, the university’s energy manager was able to find a unit that was a good fit.

In February 2013, we installed the array on the south-facing roof of the education wing. Photovoltaics use solar cells to convert sunlight into energy. When several cells are connected in a panel or array, the power generation capacity is increased. Once the energy is generated, it is sent to the inverter, which converts it into a usable form. The usable energy is then supplied to the utility company’s electric meter to either slow it down or spin it in reverse. It is projected that these panels will offset ten percent of the greenhouses’ energy usage each year.

Why solar? The Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center found that our state has the potential to collect twice as much sunlight as Germany, the world’s leader in solar energy production. Photovoltaics are a common sustainable energy source and, in terms of global importance, rank third, behind wind and hydropower, in providing renewable energy. At the end of 2012, one hundred countries worldwide were using photovoltaics.

In many international cases, photovoltaic usage has become more economically viable than traditional energy sources. For example, citizens in Cambodia can purchase a solar lantern at the equivalent of twenty-five U.S. dollars and use it for years without any additional cost, while fuel for a kerosene lantern runs around thirty U.S. dollars per year.

One of the most influential thinkers of our time, Lester Brown, founder of the World Watch Institute, had this to say about solar power, “The growth in the use of solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity can only be described as explosive, expanding by seventy-four percent in 2011. The world’s current 70,000 megawatts of photovoltaic installations can, when operating at peak power, match the output of seventy nuclear power plants.” Photovoltaics are not the only way to use the sun’s energy. The pace of solar energy development is accelerating as the installation of rooftop solar water heaters takes off. Unlike solar photovoltaic panels that convert solar radiation into electricity, these “solar thermal collectors” use the sun’s energy to heat water, space, or both.

With issues of poor air quality, the destruction of natural areas, and the possible degradation of our groundwater arising from the use of fossil fuels, it is our privilege and responsibility to explore energy production in renewable and healthy ways. I am reminded of a quote by Thomas Edison, “I’d put my money on the Sun, what a source of Power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out, before we tackle that.” We hope that the installation at Reynolda Gardens is a step towards a better understanding of solar power’s place in the energy spectrum and a cleaner environment.

Since its inception, Reynolda has served as a model of natural innovation and education. Just as Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds used the Gardens to show others what could be done if given the means, we invite that same spirit in the work we do today. The greenhouses and conservatory, even after one hundred years, are an integral part of our mission. It is our vision that through our educational endeavors and our example we will inspire awareness and an improved understanding of our natural world.

By Amanda Lanier, Curator of Education, Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University

University purchases two BigBelly Solar Trash Compactors

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The university recently invested in two BigBelly Solar Trash Compactors which will be demonstrated from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on October 9 in front of the Reynolda Fresh Food Company. Made in the USA of 80-100% post-consumer recycled plastic and other environmentally-sound material, the first and only solar trash compactor operates entirely off-grid, powered only by visible, in-unit solar panel that operates in all weather, climates, and locations, even without direct sunlight. The university also purchased the integrated recycling units to provide on-site compaction of waste while promoting side-walk recycling.

The BigBelly Solar Compactors “make a high profile statement to our sustainability movement,” Jim Coffey, director of Landscaping Services, said. Plus, “it will pay for itself over time,” he added.

The trash receptacles have five times the capacity of standard trash cans but take up the same amount of space. That means that a single unit can hold up to 200 gallons of trash. By compacting trash on the collection site, BigBelly Trash bins eliminate four out of every five trash collection trips, reducing time spent on collection, fossil fuel consumption, green house gas emissions, and plastic bag consumption by up to 80%. An in-unit wireless monitoring system remotely alerts staff when a BigBelly unit is full, maximizing efficiency and minimizing resource waste. The enclosed design of the unit keeps odors in and rodents, birds, and other small animals out of the trash, preventing the unsanitary, unattractive, and potentially hazardous spread of waste.

According to BigBelly Solar, a single Trash Compactor unit will save the university anywhere from $1,300 to $18,000 dollars in trash collecting fees and negative environmental effects over its lifetime compared to a standard bin. Employment of BigBelly machines also contributes to LEED building credits that can be used to achieve LEED Silver Certification or higher.