A silicon giant sits on the edge of Elizabethtown College’s campus. The animal is no enemy – it pays for more than 20% of the College’s energy costs. However, while many students are aware of the giant solar fields by the Schreiber Quadrangle, most are unaware of the array’s true purpose.
In 2016, the College completed construction of the largest solar energy project at an institution of higher education after receiving a $500,000 state grant. The solar field was designed not only to cover the College’s energy costs, but also to provide a site for student research. Has the energy goal been met multiple times, but has the student completed the research component?
Engineering and physics professor Dr. “The college owns the land, but not the solar panels or the array,” Kurt DeGoede said. “We’re not allowed to handle it, which is fine, but it’s plugged in. We are not allowed to modify or make changes”.
Community Energy is the developer, owner and operator of Elizabethtown Solar, and they provide energy to both corporate and institutional customers. The construction team behind the solar panels includes national solar installer Namasté Solar and New Holland-based Advanced Solar Industries.
This spring, DeGoede will teach Sustainable Design Engineering, the only class currently utilizing any aspect of solar fields. Each year they take field trips to panels that prove useful in the classroom and engineering program.
Associate Professor of Engineering and Physics Dr. “On our field trip, we looked at the panels and how they were positioned, you don’t want shadows on the panel,” Brenda Read-Daily said. “The information on the back gives detailed information about the power they can produce. It’s great for students to go and see it and actually get a hands-on approach to what they’re learning.”
Read-Daily taught Sustainable Design Engineering last spring and praises solar panels like DeGoede’s for both academics and sustainability.
“I think it shows a visible dedication to sustainability with those acres,” DeGoede said. “I appreciate the College taking this position and it was a good economic move because they are keeping electricity costs at a constant rate in an inflationary economy.”
The energy produced by the solar field feeds into the national electric grid, which supplies almost everything in the United States. The amount of energy produced by the Etown solar panel site is then deducted from the College’s energy bill. This is enough to provide energy to 330 residential houses per year.
The exact amount of energy the solar array produced last month (258.76 MWh), this year (2.44 GWh) and over its lifetime (19.82 GWh) are all public data linked on DeGoede’s faculty website . The information is updated in real time every 15 minutes.
“We use this in the classroom to see the history of the array,” DeGoede said. “That’s where you can use it for research and data analysis, but it’s not to a large extent.”
“The business side and the facility tour is definitely valuable for these students,” he said.
There is another use for solar fields – the cross-country course. The course covers the entire field and was used to host this year’s alumni reunion.
Solar panels prove that sustainable energy is possible and has many uses. In the future, the field will continue to generate power while serving as an instructional tour for engineering majors and an athletics course.