Solar panels planned for Jones College roof

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Amy Griffiths

After the success of the solar panel installation on the roof of the south wing of Jones College, the next phase of the project is ready to be implemented. The upcoming project will be almost identical in size to the first phase — a 50kW installation consisting of approximately 160 modules — and it will cover the roof of the north wing of Jones College. This project should be completed by early 2018.

After Rice President David Leebron signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, Rice created the Rice Integrated Climate and Energy Master Plan (RICEMaP), which set 2038 as the target date for the university to become carbon neutral. This project is one of many that will help advance Rice’s efforts to accomplish that goal.

The electricity that the solar panels produce will help to meet the energy needs of Jones North. Past experience with Jones South showed that on occasion, especially during the peak of summer, the solar panel array generated more power than the building consumed, and that excess electricity was then used to meet the electricity needs of other buildings on campus. In addition to providing free renewable electricity, these projects help Rice to manage electricity use during daytime peaks.

“On-site solar installations reduce our daytime electrical peak consumption as a campus, which is typically the most expensive electricity,” Richard Johnson, director of the Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management, said. “When we reduce our peaks, we help to avoid that expensive electricity, and we also mitigate associated costly peak charges. So the solar panels offer savings to the university related to peak reductions in addition to the value of the electricity that they produce.”

According to associate vice president of Housing and Dining Mark Ditman, the potential payback shines beyond direct solar energy and peak management. For example, the panels provide shading to the roof — extending the lifetime of the roof. The shade of the panels also helps keep the building cool, which in turn reduces the amount of energy used for cooling the buildings.

In addition to the cost benefits, Ditman said he believes these solar panels are a “moral imperative.”

“The sun gives us clean energy, so we should use it,” he said.

There’s potential to expand the project further. Ditman and his team are actively exploring the possibility of adding photovoltaics to several flat rooftops in the north colleges zone in the near future. They are also exploring Tesla’s new solar roof tiles, which purportedly are more than three times stronger than standard roofing tiles, enabling the whole roof to become involved in energy production. This new technology may be incorporated in the next roofing project for a magister’s house. They are also exploring whether there’s a role for Tesla’s new Powerwall battery. All in all, renewable energy usage at Rice is just getting started.

“The first project was the entry,” Ditman said. “One after another we’ll be knocking this off.”