ETSU students help lead the push for solar energy on campus, sustainability director says

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 21, 2019 at 11:34 PM

East Tennessee State University campus community has been moving toward sustainable energy usage and production on campus.

On April 2, ETSU will publicly unveil the latest step: new solar panels on top of the Charles C. Sherrod Library.

“We have two large solar arrays on campus so far. We have one that’s on top of our Basler Center for Physical Activity. That’s been on there for about five years,” Director of Sustainability Kathleen Moore said. “Now, we just put that one on top of the Charles Sherrod Library.”

The new panels were put there through the efforts of students, including members of the ETSU Student Government Association and the Campus Sustainability Fee Committee, which asks faculty, staff and students to propose energy sustainability projects funded through students.

The project cost roughly $140,000, Moore said.

“There is no formal policy from the administration to install more solar (panels). This has really been a push by our students,” Moore said. “The funding for the one on top of the library was funded through the campus sustainability fee, which are student fees they pay every semester toward various sustainability projects.”

Moore said she hopes to see the campus community continue to be more proactive about energy sustainability on campus in the coming years. In addition to installing more solar panels in the future, Moore said the campus wants to be able to quantify how much money is being saved by using solar panels and reducing energy usage.  

“Our focus for the next couple of years is to actually install quite a few electrical meters so we can actually provide building-level metering at different buildings on campus. The other priority is to actually reduce our electrical load,” she said. “We spent time over the last few years on projects to reduce our energy use.”

Aside from the environmental side of campus energy concerns, Moore said saving money through energy efficiency on campus could provide more funds for things like academic programs and even capital projects.

“If we don’t spend as much, we have that money left over for a lot of other things,” she said.

With new solar panels on the library, Moore said the campus still needs to focus on promoting sustainable energy practices on campus.

“Everybody has a part to play in that,” she said. “If people leave the lights on all the time or leave their chargers plugged or computers on all the time, that’s energy use, so we’re trying to also work on behavior.”

Moving forward, Moore said she hopes students will continue to play a key role in how campus energy is used and produced. She said she “applauds them for being a part of the solution.”

“I applaud the students for their forward thinking and putting their money into these projects. They know what they’re inheriting as far as climate change and other things,” Moore said. “Sometimes, the government is slow to respond, but they want to do their part and make sure we are coming up with solutions now.”

By the end of the year, Moore said ETSU will know how much the solar panels will save on Sherrod Library’s energy expenditures.

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