Solar panels to line roof of U building

$230,000 of a $1.35M grant will go toward the panels.

Solar panels to line roof of U building

Nick Sudheimer

By the start of 2012, a building on the University of Minnesota campus will be partially powered by the sun.

The University will use $230,000 of a $1.35 million grant to install solar panels on the roof of the University Office Plaza Building. The city of Minneapolis authorized the University to use part of the grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce Office of Energy Security  for the installation, which will be finished by the end of the year.

Located next to TCF Bank Stadium, the buildingâÄôs solar panels will create an estimated 38.4 kilowatts of solar electric power âÄî enough energy to supply five homes a year, said Brad Hoff, chief administrative officer for Facilities Management.

âÄú38 kW is a sizable amount, and it will provide a significant amount of energy,âÄù said Louise Goldberg, director of the UniversityâÄôs Energy Systems Design Program.

But Hoff said theyâÄôll have a small impact on reducing the UniversityâÄôs total energy output when compared to other energy-saving practices.

The University is hoping the panels will help save 3 to 5 percent of the buildingâÄôs energy consumption, Hoff said.

Other energy-saving practices like re-commissioning âÄî a process performed every five years that adjusts functions in University buildings like temperature levels, fan schedules and light usage âÄî save 15 to 20 percent in energy reductions, he said. Hoff compared it to âÄútuning a car.âÄù

âÄúI think the solar panels will be a good learning experience,âÄù he said, âÄúbut itâÄôs not like theyâÄôre going to put a huge dent in our carbon footprint.âÄù

Once installed, the University will create an online interface where anybody can see a live feed of the energy generated and saved by the solar panels.

The installation of solar panels at the University Office Plaza Building, which houses the Minnesota Daily suite, is part of a regional effort to improve energy sustainability.

The project is part of the Energy Innovation Corridor âÄî a string of energy efficient projects, like LEED-certified buildings and charging stations for electric cars, along the 11-mile stretch of the Central Corridor light-rail line.

Numerous green projects along the corridor have already been completed, such as the Target CenterâÄôs Vegetated Roof, as well as installation of solar panels on the roof of the Minneapolis Convention Center, the Seven Corners Apartment Building on the West Bank and atop Fire Station 19 in Stadium Village.

The corridor is using the $1.35 million grant to harvest a total of 190.2 kW in solar electric power along the light rail.

Because most of the funding comes from a state grant, the city will make its money back from the entire network of solar panels in less than three months, according to the city.

While Goldberg appreciates the cityâÄôs commitment to alternative energy, she said she questions whether solar energy is the most effective energy source to promote.

âÄúWhat really is important with renewable energy is the cost effectiveness of each dollar spent,âÄù Goldberg said.