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186 solar panels to top Jones College south roof

By Michelle Tran     12/3/14 7:18am

Rice University Housing and Dining began the installation of 186 solar panels on the roof of South Jones College as a new source of sustainable power for student inhabitants at the beginning of November. This solar panel project is the start of an institutional investment toward making Rice more eco-friendly, according to H&D Senior Operations Manager David Brown.

“Our main intent is to reduce our electrical demands from the normal utility and generate some of our own green, renewable power to help [lower] costs and improve our environmental footprint,” Senior Electrical Engineer and Project Manager Jason Hochstein said. 

According to Hochstein, aside from the power generated directly from the solar cells, there are additional energy conservation benefits from the solar panel project.

“The panels provide a degree of shading,” Hochstein said. “The goal there is to reduce the solar load to the building’s roof [to] reduce the air condition requirements for the facility.”

Hochstein said the panels will also help prevent the ultraviolet breakdown of the roof and protect the internal parts of the building, including the insulation and air conditioning system. In the long run, the solar panels will extend the life of the building, according to Hochstein.

According to Brown, Facilities Engineering and Planning is considering additional solar panel installments on other residential colleges and academic buildings. North Jones College is tentatively slated for a solar panel installment next summer. Brown said Jones was chosen to pilot the project because its roof structure best accommodated solar panels.

“One of the things that Housing and Dining is hopeful about is that if this is worth what we invested up to this point, we will continue to invest and add more solar panels to more buildings and make Rice a greener place,” Brown said.

The solar panel project at Jones is a learning experiment for both Rice as an institution and the student body according to Brown.

“We want to look at how going to a green source will benefit us and the university, and I am hoping that we can really set an example not just for other colleges, but for the students as they graduate and move on and take this lesson with them and share it wherever they go,” Brown said. 

Because many students have expressed interest in the development of this project, there will be an educative component for the student body focused on explaining how the panels operate and benefit the building and the environment. 

“As an educational feature, we will be mounting a 42-inch television monitor in the main lobby of South Jones College that students will be able to look at to learn how the system is performing,” Hochstein said. 

Student involvement played a significant role in advancing this sustainability project.

“The solar panels at Jones have been a long time coming,” Lead Campus Eco-Representative Zach Bielak said. “For a while now, students have been pushing for more responsible and sustainable sources of energy, and it’s phenomenal that Rice has finally responded in a tangible way. Hopefully, this project will pave the way for future energy projects at Rice — perhaps even solar panels on top of Lovett Hall!”

According to Brown, the sustainability projects at Rice involve support from institutional staff and students alike.

“Students are a part of this [green initiative],” Brown said. “Everyone plays a part in the conservation.”

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