LAWRENCE — An energy-efficient and highly visible educational tool is the latest addition to a state-of-the art research building at the University of Kansas School of Engineering.
Westar Energy provided a $48,473 grant to KU to install a 10-kilowatt solar array on the roof of the Measurement Materials and Sustainable Environment Center (M2SEC). George Werth, campus energy engineer; Jeff Severin, sustainability director, and Paul Graves, deputy director of design & construction management, prepared the grant application. The project at KU was one of 15 around the state that won funding as part of Westar Energy’s Solar Photovoltaic Project.
“This is an exciting partnership between Westar and KU. This project provides a special opportunity for our students and faculty to gain experience with and conduct research using an operational solar array, plus it's a great learning tool for the public,” said Bob Parsons, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering and director of construction for the School of Engineering. “It also reduces the amount of energy KU pulls from the power grid, so it’s really a win-win for everybody.”
Cromwell Solar of Lawrence installed solar panels on the roof in mid-July, and they are completing utility connections and testing. The system is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of July. The arrangement of the panels also serves as a greeting of sorts to campus. They form the letters K and U.
Real-time information about the panels, which are located on the southwest corner of the roof of the M2SEC building, will be available on a monitor in the building’s lobby and on KU’s Center for Sustainability website.
“Electricity is core to how we live, work and play, and our energy landscape is dynamic. Interest in solar energy is part of that dynamic. Local schools and organizations will be great partners to collect and use this information to help us and our communities better understand how solar might fit into our overall energy resources in Kansas. We hope projects will inspire our youths to excel in math and science by providing real world application,” said Mark Ruelle, Westar Energy president and chief executive officer.
In cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the projects represent more than a $1 million investment. Each installation is between 10 and 30 kilowatts, offsetting a portion of the customers’ traditional energy demand.
The solar panels in the M2SEC building will be available for faculty and student research subject to coordination with KU’s Office of Design & Construction Management. The agreement with Westar requires KU to operate and maintain the solar panels for 25 years.