Kent State University in Ohio begins adding solar projects to all six regional campuses

Bob Misbrener

Ohio’s Kent State University is in the process of adding solar projects to all six of its regional campuses by spring 2021. Melink Solar is installing panels at the Geauga Campus in Burton, Ohio, while TEN-NINE Energy is the developing the project. The ground-mounted solar photovoltaic panels will provide 322 kW of solar energy every year, providing 67% of the campus’ energy use.

Solar panel structure posts were set in early November and panels are now being installed. The solar array will cover 1.27 acres along Claridon-Troy Rd., connected to the Kent State Geauga classroom building.

Cost savings the first year are estimated to be $3,200, said Bob Misbrener, project manager II of sustainability, energy conservation & commissioning in the Office of the University Architect at the Kent Campus. He also estimates that cost savings over the next 25 years should be $138,682 to $242,339.

Misbrener explained that this innovative Power Purchase Contract requires $0 out-of-pocket cost to Kent State.

“We are required to purchase all solar power produced at a negotiated rate over the next 25 years,” he continued. The negotiated rate includes a minimum savings of 1.5 cents per kWh throughout the contract. “For Geauga Campus, that translates to minimum savings of $140,000. Total savings at all six participating regional campuses: $1,570,000!”

The cost of solar energy has dropped by nearly 70% in the past decade, Misbrener points out. “Solar panel efficiency is also always improving, along with battery storage.”

The Geauga solar array represents about 9% of the total amount of solar panels being installed at all six Kent State campuses. Similar projects are underway at Ashtabula (68% campus use); East Liverpool (12% campus); Salem (73% campus use); Stark (7% campus use); Trumbull (65% campus use).

Contrary to popular assumptions that cloudy northeast Ohio is a poor locale for solar power, Misbrener explained that solar energy collection is actually quite effective here.

“Our area approximates a similar latitude as Germany, which has been among the world’s top PV installers for several years. Actual experience with clean solar energy on our Kent Campus Field House roof since July 2012 has proven the effectiveness. That project developer predicted 500,000 kWh production per year. The system has slightly exceeded that amount every year! Kent State purchased that system from the developer early this year with payback expected within about seven years. In addition, since we do normally receive adequate rain, the panels stay relatively clean, which also positively affects production.”

Since Geauga and the other regional campus projects do not include battery storage, they must stay connected to the utility grid for the foreseeable future. “However, on an annual basis, the Geauga solar array will produce about 67% of the total electricity needed!” Misbrener underscores. “In my opinion, that is quite exciting!”

As a complementary enhancement, pollinator prairie flowers will be planted throughout the solar array, yielding both a natural beauty and a refuge for native honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators that will help restore balance to the ecosystem. This area of native perennial plants has the potential to become a living laboratory for further environmental, biological and botanical study.

With 81 prairie plant species available, they also offer sustainability benefits to help the solar system operate optimally. The deep roots of prairie plants promote adsorption of rainwater and cool the ground, helping the solar panels to run more efficiently.

Overall, Misbrener indicates that adopting solar energy is a growing trend among college campuses, but Kent State has distinguished itself as a leader.

“The 2012 Field House array was believed to be the largest at an Ohio university at 463 kWDC at that time,” Misbrener explains. ”We are in very good company: University of Akron, University of Dayton, Ohio Northern University, Case Western Reserve University, to name just a few.”

When it comes to green energy, Geauga Campus also operates a small wind turbine that has provided enough power to light the LED parking lot and driveway for the past eight years.

“Kent Campus is fortunate to have forward-thinking and climate-conscious leadership to support cost-effective renewable energy and efficiency projects,” Misbrener said. “Solar arrays are a very effective and visible means to demonstrate our commitment to the environment. The reduction in power plant emissions will certainly improve air quality and minimize some health issues from the air we all breathe.”

News item from Kent State University