For the past ten years, students at Stonehill College have been asking for ways to make the campus more “green” and energy efficient.
Fifteen acres and 9,152 solar panels later, those students have their answer.
This past year, Stonehill completed its 2.7 megawatt solar farm, which is located across from the main campus at the David Ames Clock Farm. The solar panels stretch over 15 acres of the 60 acre farm property, and make up the largest solar field in New England (according to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education).
Prior to going solar, Stonehill used 15,974,455 kilowatts per hour in electricity alone back in FY13. That racked the college’s electric bill up to $2,002,551.
However, the solar field is expected to save the college over $185,000 per year, and up to $3.2 million over the course of its 15-year contract with Marina Energy, which covered the project costs.
Craig Binney, Associate Vice President for finance and operations, says that prior to the solar panels, Stonehill relied on regular electric projects (such as converting oil to gas) to power campus.
“We’ve gotten lots of ideas from our students [for going green],” Binney says. “We’ve taken the ball and evolved it and implemented it.”
Did you know?
Solar panels work best on a clear, sunny, cold day.
“The cooler it is [outside], the more efficient it works,” says Yenmandra. “Solar [panels] are like a device, the hotter it is, the less efficient it works.”
To get the solar project rolling, Binney says that Stonehill leased the land on the David Ames Clock Farm to Marina Energy; during the course of each year, Stonehill will purchase its electricity back from Marina Energy at a reduced rate.
Raju Yemanandra, Vice President of Business Development at Solar World (which did not work on Stonehill’s solar farm), says that solar companies often offer a Power Purchase Plan (PPA) for colleges looking to go solar, similar to the one Stonehill has with Marina Energy.
“Some colleges can sign an agreement with a campus to sell electricity,” says Yemanandra. “They’re turning a campus green and saving money in the process.”
Scott Howe, a minority partner of Solect Energy and vice president of business development, said that as the demand for solar power grows, the anatomy of solar panels is changing.
“As the technology continues to grow, they make the cells within the panels more efficient,” he says. “The panels [themselves] are made similar to as they are now, with solar cells made into a rectangular pattern pressed between glass.”
While the solar field project will help Stonehill save big on power, the college hit a few bumps along the way, especially with the location of the solar field’s back-feeding meter.
Ways solar power can benefit your campus:
• Provides cleaner energy
• Saves money on electricity bill
• Panels provide shade and shelter from snow
• Panels can be used for educational tools, such as classes or research projects
“There are two ways to connect a solar field to the grid,” Binney says. “Virtual net metering and back-feeding the meter. They have different requirements and given the size of our solar farm, it was more beneficial for us to back-feed our primary meter.
“The issue is that the solar farm is on the west side of Route 138 and our primary meter is on the east side of Route 138. In order to cross the road, we needed special permission. National Grid didn’t want us to cross the road because they distribute electricity and didn’t want to set a precedence. In the end, an agreement was reached and we were able to move forward.”
Binney says that location is key when colleges are planning to go solar. He suggests keeping in mind how much real estate panels will take up.
“We have fifteen acres of land tied up,” he says. “If other colleges don’t have the land, they can do roof units.”
Howe says the only significant challenge his team faced was the project’s one-month time crunch, and unexpected building terrain.
“Aside from running into the rocks and ledges of New England, it was a clear install,” he says. “The field was already cleared, and we just had to meet the town’s requirements.”
Solect Energy constructed the solar farm in one month in the winter of 2013.
For future solar panel construction, Stonehill is looking to build on campus building rooftops.
Binney says that Stonehill has already installed rooftop solar panels on two of its campus storage buildings, and plans to install more rooftop solar panels on other campus buildings in the future.
He also says the college is looking to build canopies over parking lots and install solar panels on those for additional electrical support, among other big projects.
“We’re also looking into an electric car charging station on campus,” he says.
Video: Take a 17-second tour of Stonehill College’s 15 acre solar farm.