Kenyon uses solar energy to go carbon neutral

Construction crews began installing solar panels on the roof of Kenyon College’s Gund Commons on April 18, which will more than double the amount of renewable energy generated on campus when the project is completed on May 6.

Kenyon pledged in 2015 to be carbon neutral by 2040. The school announced last fall that it had purchased renewable energy credits, which cover most of its energy use. Recently, the university released a strategic plan for sustainable development, reaffirming its commitment to carbon neutrality. Kenyon has signed a contract with Evergreen Energy to develop a master plan for decarbonization.

The Gund Commons program is in conjunction with Kenyon’s annual course on solar power systems. Course professor Eric Holdener says the project was developed by Ohio-based Third Solar. “In the spring of 2020, we adopted the Gund Commons system as a work project for the students’ final course, hoping to compare the student group design with third Solar’s design.”

Sean Decatur, Kenyon’s president, is pleased with the solar power program, especially the students’ involvement in the installation. “Gund Commons will be the biggest project in the programme and I am excited about the progress it is making,” he says.

Kenyon uses solar energy to go carbon neutral

Dave Heithaus, director of Green Initiatives, said the Gund Commons project had been scheduled to begin in the spring of 2020, but had been put on hold because of the pandemic, and the cost of installing the panels was only now being approved by the school.

He noted that the solar panels currently installed on the Gund Commons project still require LEED certification. LEED provides certification for sustainable construction projects. The chalmers Library was previously LEED platinum. “We can combine the Gund Commons project with other renewable energy generation projects on campus to achieve LEED certification,” Highhouse said.

He added that Gund Commons was chosen for aesthetic reasons as well as its location, which allows for more sunlight on the roof.

Gund Commons remains largely open throughout construction, with the exception of different entrances to the building being closed at different times during installation to ensure pedestrian safety.

Gund Common has a capacity of 60 kilowatts and can boost renewable energy generation on campus to 100 kilowatts, including a small solar system at Kenyon Farm, country Lodge, Hoehn-Saric House and village Market, Highhouse said. It is reported that Kenyon College’s energy demand is about 19 million to 20 million kilowatts.

Although the project is the largest solar project Kenyon has ever undertaken, there is still a long way to go in renewable energy development on campus, Highhouse said. “We’re not going very fast at the moment, but we’re going in the right direction and can provide some valuable experience for students taking the course,” he said.

Kenyon will determine the next steps in carbon neutrality based on a report produced by EverGreen Energy. Hayhouse described the timeline in detail. “They will spend a year getting to know our school and provide us with a range of technical solutions and supporting financial mechanisms to help us achieve net neutral emissions by 2040.”

Evergreen Energy will complete its report in April 2023, at which time the board of Trustees will evaluate and decide on specific actions. Decatur said more information about future sustainability projects will be released in the fall, but the exact timing is not yet clear.

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