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Coal Free IU finances 8 solar panels at IMU


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By Claire Aronson




Eight solar panels producing two kilowatts of clean energy were installed on the roof of the Indiana Memorial Union on Thursday.

The panels are each 250 watts and are located on the left side of the Whittenberger Auditorium entrance, said Jill Minor, Mann Plumbing Inc. solar website designer and School of Public and Environmental Affairs dual masters candidate.

“On the back of the panels, we use micro-inverters, and the panels create direct current electricity like a battery, and the micro-inverters change the direct current into alternating current,” Minor said.

The IU Student Foundation awarded the Sierra Club’s Coal Free IU project with a $12,000 grant to fund the installation of the solar panels.

University Engineer Jeff Kaden said while the grant wasn’t a lot of money to purchase these panels, the product the University purchased was good.

“Hopefully, this is the first of many projects that we can do like this, and hopefully, the next ones will be bigger,” he said. 

Mann Plumbing Inc./MPI Solar installed the array, which took about nine hours, Minor said.

“The biggest challenge was definitely getting the panels up on the roof,” she said. “There was no direct access.”

However, because of a slight change in the way the micro inverters are connected, the solar panels aren’t fully operational yet, Kaden said.

“There are a couple electrical items that need to be completed, and quite frankly, it has not been sunny since they have been up so they couldn’t have been producing much energy anyway,” he said.

The amount of energy the IMU uses every day will affect how much of the difference is noticeable, Kaden said.

“The building uses thousands of kilowatts a day so there is going to be very little noticeable effect, quite frankly,” he said. “This is a very interesting demonstration project, and there will be a web-based opportunity for people to see the production, but as far as actually affecting usage of electricity in the Union building, it will not be that noticeable.”
 
Coal Free IU President Lauren Kastner said the club hopes for the solar panels to be functional by the end of next week and to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony to flip the switch on and connect the panels to the building.

“It is seriously such a huge move for students. It is both student run and funded, and it sends a huge message to the University that students are ready for clean energy,”
she said.

There will be a live monitor in the IMU for people to see how much energy is being used and how much sunlight is hitting the panels, Kastner said.

“We want to use them as an educational tool,” she said. “They are for the good of the campus. We want to make sure people have the access and use it as a learning tool. It is an onsite demonstration of clean energy not only for a better campus but education, research and awareness.”

Kastner said IU needs to take the clean energy seriously as 16 other universities have already made a public timeline to go off coal.

“It is so important that IU is on the path of clean energy now,” she said. “They need to start taking the competition seriously if they want to maintain progress and  sustainability.”

The solar production data of how much electricity is being made every day can be accessed at www.mannplumbinginc.com.

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