You can’t exactly see them, but they’re hard at work—60 solar panels lining a section of Harvey Mudd College’s (HMC) Case Dormitory rooftop.
Installed in late 2001, just after the California energy crisis, the array of panels covers a 560 square-foot area and produces 2,284 watts of power at peak time—the equivalent of 22 100-watt light bulbs; 11 42-inch LCD television sets; or four 60-inch plasma screens.
“Case Dorm was ideal because it has a large flat roof with good exposure to the sun,” says Tom Shaffer, plant engineer with HMC’s Facilities and Maintenance Office.
The idea for the panels, also known as photovoltaic cells, stemmed from an HMC student project.
Installed by the college in an effort to be more environmentally conscious and alleviate the rising cost of electricity, the panels not only provide renewable energy for Case, but also allowed HMC at the time they were installed to take advantage of the available financial rebate programs designed as incentives to utilize renewable energy generation systems.
“The Presidents Climate Commitment sets guidelines for the reduction of our impact on the environment,” explains Shaffer. “Photovoltaic systems will contribute toward that end.
“The increased integration of these systems will reduce the energy needs for the power that Southern California Edison currently supplies. As The Claremont Colleges expand, it could reduce the need to expand the infrastructure for the colleges as well as the draw on the power distributed in California.”
Currently, Pitzer and Pomona Colleges also have photovoltaic cells installed on various campus buildings.
Since solar panels were installed on HMC’s Case Dorm, a number of different systems have been tested to identify which best measures the current and voltage produced by the cells.
“A group of faculty and students have been working hard on solar technology, and have been involved in the evaluation of the Case solar system,” explains Richard Haskell, HMC’s Burton Bettingen Professor of Physics and director of the Physics Clinic. “The Case system was intended as a pilot project, and [Engineering Professor and Dean of Faculty Emeritus] Sam Tanenbaum deserves the credit for pushing it. We would like to expand solar technology rapidly on the HMC campus, but financing the effort is the challenging part.”
While there are no plans to add more solar panels to Case Dorm at the moment, according to Shaffer, “several alternatives are being reviewed” for other locations at HMC.
“The photovoltaic cell is a great technology and should be seriously considered,” he says. “The technology is always evolving and improving, and the efficiency of the systems are getting better and the price dropping. But it really depends on the price of electricity and incentives available at the time. We are always open to new technology as well.”