A new solar array now sits atop North Seattle College’s Education Building, installed in March after a two-year process of grant writing, vendor selection, and the shaping of an educational collaboration between North and Shoreline Community College.
While not a large system in comparison to those installed at the University of Washington and Bellevue College, North Seattle College’s new solar installation is impressive for its potential as an educational tool. It has unique tracking ability in two axes and is the first installation of its kind to be mounted on the roof of a building rather than on the ground.
Project Begins with Grant Writing
During Winter Quarter 2013 Ben Silver, staff member in the Sustainability Office, geology faculty member John Figge, HVAC program coordinator Mark Weber, and student Christoph Strouse began writing a grant for matching funds for a solar installation on campus. This work was done by the existing Sustainability Committee with the help of Vice President Orestes Monterecy. Bonneville Environmental Foundation of Portland, Oregon, which promotes renewable energy and resource conservation, awarded half the $75,000 cost for the project. The balance is being covered by North.
Formed after receiving the funding, a new Solar Committee has become the driving force behind the project. Sustainability Director Christian Rusby, District Sustainability Coordinator Ian Siadak, Vice President Monterecy, Facilities Director Jason Francois, IT Director Lucas Reber, Figge and Weber, as well as Louise Petruzzella and David Redding from Shoreline Community College's Clean Energy Program make up the committee. Students were also drafted—Strouse and Mike Anderson from North and Laura Monson from Shoreline.
"As a student studying IT Controlled Electronic Systems, I was looking to apply technology to smart sustainability solutions on campus,” explains Strouse. “Solar energy generation and storage are obviously where things are headed for creating energy independence and resiliency in buildings, communities and cities.”
Design and Building Process
In fall 2014, students from Shoreline's Clean Energy Program were invited to do a solar assessment on the roof of the Ed Building. Using this assessment, they designed a system for North’s roof. “Equipped with this design, the Solar Committee evaluated contractor proposals based on three criteria: vendor profile and proposed system, education/collaboration with students, and financial stability,” explains Weber.
Artisan Electric was awarded the contract to build the solar array. They won the job based on two key issues: 1) their strong commitment to education and collaboration as demonstrated in their building of the University of Washington's system; and 2) their presentation of a second design option for the array—a tracking system with a capacity of 8.8 kW. The team liked the tracking system for its great educational value. The panels can be set to track the brightest object in the sky or set at any angle wanted in either axis. This allows students to compare and contrast automatic tracking versus a fixed position and to compare various fixed positions for power output.
Dynamic Learning System
“The power output from this array is about half of the standard ‘lie on the roof and do nothing system’ and provides North with a better tool for experimentation in our classes,” according to Weber. Designed to withstand hurricane force winds (115 MPH) and a magnitude nine earthquake, North’s array is 30 panels and stands nearly 20 feet above the roof deck. The base is 13 feet in diameter, and it weighs nearly three tons. It rotates on a turntable and can tilt from nearly vertical to horizontal, allowing it to follow the sun. The sensors are so sensitive that, unless it is programed not to, it will follow the moon as it crosses the night sky.
The array is a small, learning-oriented, dynamic system. Data collected by the experiments will be available to the public online in a read-only format. The project wasn’t about generating electricity and will have only a small effect on building or campus electricity use.
Just the Beginning of Solar Plans
The solar project has already afforded a range of opportunities for collaboration, starting with Shoreline’s contribution of the preliminary design. Students from both campuses attended design presentations and participated in tours throughout the weeklong installation process.
“This will be the first of several clean energy tools we will install on the roof of the Ed Building,” according to Weber. “Once the solar array has been fully debugged and working, I have a wind/electric machine waiting for the necessary permissions to be set on a pole and let fly. Additionally, the old satellite dishes from the roof, removed to make room for the solar array, are going to be re-purposed into parabolic mirrors for high-temperature solar use.”
Strouse adds, “I'm looking forward to using the energy monitoring dashboard which we'll have access to in the new solar lab. We'll also be sharing a data feed with the University of Washington's solar program so their research can benefit from our cutting-edge system.”
“We intend to build on this model for the future by creating a center for High Performing Home Technology and Clean Energy Tech that involves both campuses,” says Weber. There are plans to build cross-campus degrees and certificates, allow a seamless transfer of credits, extend educational labs into other facilities on campus, and share instructors, labs, tools and other resources.
Weber expresses thanks to the Sustainability Office/Committee, Vice President Monterecy, the Facilities and IT staff, Louise Petruzzella and other contributors at Shoreline, and the students from North. “Without these participants, the North solar array would still be sketches in a drawer.”
For a recent discussion of North’s solar array, see the Solar Power World article.
Find more about North’s sustainability accomplishments:
- Our recent Champions of Sustainability recognition
- Our STARS Silver rating from AASHE and sustainability efforts