By SHANNON O. WELLS
A solar-panel array installation on top of Pitt-Bradford’s new engineering technology building may not be the most visible element of the University’s green-energy portfolio, but once it’s switched on, its status will be undeniable.
“It’s the largest rooftop solar array in the University of Pittsburgh system,” said Matt Kropf, associate professor of engineering technology at Pitt-Bradford, who secured a grant for the project. “We were able to, as the building was being built, start planning to have the solar integrated into the roof. We went out to bid and went through all that process and selected the installer (Pitt has) worked with before.
“And I would say the rest is history, but the grant won’t be closed out until there’s an educational component,” he added. “I have a student working on (that) right now. But the array itself is in place.”
Funded by a $230,000 grant from the Met-Ed/Penelec Sustainable Energy Fund, the rooftop array is projected to produce approximately 113,000 kilowatt hours a year and include a high-profile building dashboard to provide a community education and engagement element.
Aurora Sharrard, Pitt’s executive director of sustainability, brought the grant opportunity to Kropf’s attention. She recently led a tour of Oakland-based Pitt students and faculty to a 20-megawatt solar array project on farmland near Pittsburgh International Airport.
As with most solar-array installations, the power the Pitt-Bradford rooftop array generates is fed into the existing electrical grid, operated in Bradford by Penelec, with a meter-determined offset credited on the University’s power bill.
“So if everything else was turned off and the sun was shining, our meters would run backward,” Kropf quipped. “That won’t be the case, of course. The campus uses quite a bit of electricity, but this is a sizeable offset compared to our other (campus) array, which is maybe the size for a small residential home. This one is approximately 20 times bigger than that.”
The new array is projected to save Pitt-Bradford approximately $6,374 a year, Kropf noted. “That’s based on minimum amount of electricity. The actual panels we got are a little higher efficiency than what we’ve first projected in the grant, (so) we’ll do better than that,” he said. “But that’s a decent number to go off of.”
The $22 million engineering building the panels are on is being constructed to a gold level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The facility will house new engineering technology programs, including energy-engineering technology.
The array’s educational component — a data-driven dashboard in the building lobby — will reveal the panels’ role and efficiency for those who walk in and out each day. Kropf said Pitt students will be directly involved in keeping energy-related information displayed efficiently and accurately.
“There will be a screen that will show solar production for that array, solar production for the other (Bradford campus) array and energy consumption for all the buildings on campus,” he said, noting the similarity to an online dashboard that monitors Pitt’s sustainable energy consumption. “But the energy monitoring is sort of manually put into the graph every so often.”
Allee Williams, Kropf’s capstone project student, is among the students working on software to control sensors that automatically report data to the building dashboard. Pitt Computer Science majors are required to complete a capstone experience including a for-credit internship, a research project and complete a capstone-designated course.
“(Williams) is graduating this semester, and I have another Energy, Science and Technology student that’s working with him already (who is) picking up where he leaves off to finish that dashboard …” Kropf said. “So that’s the educational piece that we’re still wrapping up to close out the grant.”
The new rooftop array follows a small demonstration-based solar unit featuring 10 solar panels installed about eight years ago. Funded from a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection grant, it laid the groundwork for the larger array.
“Part of the grant was (for) the demonstration we use in classes, so I’ve brought students up there … but the other aspect was to sort of verify our (solar) production up here in Bradford,” he said, while allowing Pitt technicians to integrate it with the system “in order to justify going after some funds to get a bigger solar array later.”
Now that one has arrived, Kropf is invigorated to see the Bradford campus become a larger part of Pitt’s green energy mix.
“It’s a demonstration of us being able to move in the right direction and even lead from a regional campus. I’m incredibly proud of that. It’s a reflection of the support and integration we’ve done, University-wide, since we’ve had a sustainability coordinator,” he said, referring to Aurora Sharrard. “It’s a good feeling.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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