Planning for the first solar panel installation project at WVU is still underway and is estimated to be completed in the spring or summer.
WVU’s first solar panel system is expected to cost upward of $48,000. Traci Knabenshue, director of the WVU Office of Sustainability, said much of this funding came from Siemens Industry Inc., which donated $43,800 to the project.
Knabenshue said this system will consist of 54 panels designed and installed by West Virginia-based solar power company Solar Holler.
The project was originally set for completion last summer, but due to technical challenges, the project was unable to be completed within that time frame.
“We anticipated before that we would be installing over the summer, but we haven’t installed yet and that is for a few different reasons,” Knabenshue said. “This is our first solar panel installation and the panels are going to be directly tied into the building. We are doing our due diligence to make sure we are going to be connecting that all correctly.”
Because of the strict standards that come with installations on top of campus buildings, Knabenshue said building racks for the panels has also added to the project length. Along with the technicalities, installing the panels comes with its own set of challenges, including scheduling a crane to lift the panels onto the law school.
Knabenshue said while the project may pay off financially long-term, on a wide-scale this energy-efficient system is not more cost-effective than the energy the University currently uses. Because of this, plans for campus-wide solar panels are not currently underway.
“Cost-wise, when you are making energy improvements, you have a pay-back period, so you want the project to pay off itself in a certain period of time,” Knabenshue said. “Right now, doing wide-scale solar on campus does not make sense for us for the payback period, so we are not going to turn around tomorrow and install solar panels on every single building.”
However, Knabenshue said as technology approves, costs of energy-efficient projects will likely continue to decrease, making it more affordable for WVU to create a more energy-efficient campus.
“LED lighting is a good example,” Knabenshue said. “We are doing more LED lighting projects now than we were five years ago because the technology behind it is improving and the price is coming down, so you will start to see more and more of that as time goes on.”
Beyond serving as an energy source, the solar panels contribute an educational component to campus as well, providing an example the impacts renewable energy can have on campus.
Knabenshue said this is among the many reasons as to why the WVU Law School was chosen as the prime location for the project.
“They’re active in sustainability, and it is the home of the center for energy and sustainable development,” she said. “It is important for the law school to demonstrate that solar and other renewable energies have possibilities in West Virginia.”
Once installed, Knabenshue said the panels will be easy to maintain, and will be on-campus for years to come.
“Once they are installed they should have a good, long life,” she said. “When the sun shines they will provide for the building, and when it’s not, the building will still be using power form the grid.”