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Solar Panels Provide Some Energy to Student Center

By JuliÁn Villarreal

The Stratton Student Center can now harvest seven kilowatts of power from the sun using three rows of solar panels.

The use of solar power “demonstrates the need to explore alternative energies on our campus” and reduce emissions, said Laxmi J. Rao, senior project manager of utilities for MIT Facilities.

Phillip J. Walsh, department head and director of the Campus Activities Complex, said that the project “allows [the Student Center] to become very much a ‘green’ building” and that the CAC would like to be a part of looking for alternative energy sources.

Solar power currently accounts for only a tiny fraction of MIT’s approximately 20 megawatt power demand.

Rao said that Utilities would like to continue being a model for emissions reduction at MIT and also continue involving more students in the process.

The panels were installed on July 25, but there will be a public ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 15.

More panels being planned

“This is just the beginning,” Rao said. There will soon be solar power panels on two more MIT buildings, possibly including Hayden library, as part of a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, she said.

The grant, totaling $455,701, provides for the installation of photovoltaic units on the MIT campus, on several homes in the surrounding Cambridge community, as well as on the homes of MIT affiliates. Rao also said that MIT will help install solar panels for homeowners with help from the city of Cambridge.

“A lot of the motivation for this project came from ongoing conversations with MIT students,” she said, including the student group Share a Vital Earth, Students for Sustainable Growth, and the Freshman Energy Seminar led by Professor Jeffrey L. Steinfeld.

“I think MIT should really be a leader in this field ... MIT has become aware that it’s behind in terms of environmental practices on campus,” said Samuel J. Arey G, former president of Share a Vital Earth. “I see their efforts, and I think it’s a good thing.”

Rao applied for the grant jointly with Dr. Edward C. Kern of the Laboratory for Energy and Environment and Director of Utilities Peter L. Cooper. She said the initiative is a very good example of partnerships between MIT departments.

She said the panels were manufactured by RWE Shott Solar, Inc. and the system designer was Zapotec Energy of Cambridge, MA