By Drue Johnson | Oct 6, 2017

Though our city isn’t known for sunny weather, solar arrays are still a highly viable source of energy for the PNW, and solar panels are starting to appear on rooftops across campus. Solar power installations can be found on the roofs of many West campus residence halls, including Mercer, Elm and Alder.

Those panels are in place thanks to the student group UW Solar. UW Solar was started in 2012 “to provide clean and sustainable power production in order to reduce reliance on outside energy resources, improve the resilience of power systems to outages and reduce the overall carbon footprint of the university.” The group is led by two graduate students: Stefanie Young, a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Planning, and D.C. Grant, a Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management. These two lead a team of twelve students representing multiple departments on campus. The group works on all aspects of campus solar projects, including determining locations for projects, analysis, design, promoting sustainability to the campus community, communicating with contractors and engineers, and grant writing.

UW Solar’s first project used a Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) grant to install solar panels on the roof of Mercer Court, and the group continues to work with campus departments and other partners to add more solar power generation to campus. The group was instrumental in the installation of panels on Maple, Elm and Alder halls last year as part of a testbed to support research on clean energy and smart grid technology. They’ve also identified many other UW buildings where solar installations are possible, and the CSF recently awarded the group a $150,000 grant to go towards installing solar panels on the new Life Sciences building, currently being constructed just off the Burke-Gilman Trail.

For their work in advancing renewable energy on campus, UW Solar was recognized with a 2017 Husky Green Award. Husky Green Awards are given to students, faculty, staff and groups who have made a campus-wide impact by showing environmental leadership and commitment to sustainability. UW Solar has made a large impact in a short amount of time by installing solar panels which provide opportunities for student research as well as generating energy.

UW Solar’s $150,000 grant from the CSF is the largest grant ever approved by the fund, and will go toward an innovative solar installation on the Life Sciences building. The building was designed not only to have panels on its roof, but also make vertical solar fins easily visible to those on the Burke-Gilman and NE Pacific Street.

A newer project UW Solar has a hand in fostering is Another Solar Array Please (ASAP). UW Sustainability created this project to better support the addition of solar infrastructure to campus, and a partnership with UW Solar will help make that vision a reality. ASAP is helping UW to meet the goal it pledged to uphold in the Climate Action Plan through reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by UW Seattle. Half of all the funding the ASAP program receives will be put toward purchasing the next solar array on campus. UW Sustainability and UW Solar work together to choose a prime location, and once a panel is installed, it gets its own webpage listing the panel’s funders. After that, funders are informed of how much energy the panel is producing so that they can see the impact their contribution has had.

Having the infrastructure that UW Solar puts in place makes installing new panels as easy as replacing the old ones. When an array gets installed on the site it will only need to be swapped out for a newer, more efficient set of panels once every thirty to forty years. In addition to being so low maintenance, solar energy is highly efficient and renewable, making it one of the best energy sources to use in supporting the Climate Action Plan. UW Solar itself is a valuable resource in how it provides great learning opportunities to students; in the process of allocating funding from solar firms, the group requests that the businesses mentor students working on the projects about the ins and outs of the solar industry.

Looking to the future, UW solar plans on continuing to find new places to install solar panels across campus. The group is also determined to raise the visibility of renewable energy on campus to reduce our carbon footprint, while recruiting students from a broad range of disciplines at UW. If you are interested in gaining experience in planning or designing solar arrays on campus and in the Seattle community, UW Solar open to newcomers at any level of expertise. Students who want to join or learn more about UW Solar can attend a team meeting during the Fall quarter. Meetings are Mondays and Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. in the Urban Infrastructure Lab, located in Gould Hall room 12C.