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Building to recieve solar panels

Brian McKenzie | Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stinson-Remick Hall, the new state-of-the-art engineering hall scheduled to open in early 2010, received a $500,000 donation for solar panels from General Electric, in an effort to stimulate research on harnessing solar energy.  

Robert Cunningham, the director of budget and operations for the College of Engineering, said the donation provided a “tremendous opportunity to research solar energy.”  

He said the gift was “certainly the most significant” environmental contribution the hall had received so far.

“GE stepped right up,” he said.  “They’re making a major move into energy.”  

He said GE is also the largest employer, both in terms of internships and careers, of Notre Dame’s undergraduate engineers.  

In addition to providing energy to offset the hall’s energy consumption, Cunningham said the solar panels would help contribute to a “living learning environment, a building that will excite engineering students, like science students are excited by [the Jordan Hall of Science].”

Joan Brennecke, the director of the Notre Dame Energy Center, agreed, saying the panels would provide “an excellent research opportunity for students to determine what factors – cloudiness, dusk-to-dawn time, snow coverage, etc. – most affect energy output.”  

She said the panels would cover “virtually every available space on the roof” but would “only supply a very small fraction of the power for Stinson-Remick.”

Under ideal conditions, she said, the array would provide roughly a quarter of the energy for the hall’s learning center. She estimated that Stinson-Remick’s learning center had between three and four times as much useable space as the Cushing learning center, the current study space for engineering students.    

She said the solar arrays might save as much as $5,500 each year in energy costs.

“You can quickly calculate that the payback time for solar panels is very long, which is why it was important to get them donated from GE,” she said.  

“This [low rate of return] emphasizes the need for solar energy research to develop new types of solar cells that have higher collection efficiency.”

She said current panels only convert about 15 percent of the incident light to electricity.

“Only if costs are reduced significantly will solar energy become a viable alternative for ordinary people,” Brennecke said.

Notre Dame professors such as Prashant Kamat, Debdeep Jena and Grace Xing, she said, were already conducting research to make solar energy a more competitive energy source.

Additionally, Nisource Energy Technologies has agreed to donate a microturbine that will use natural gas to generate electricity, Brennecke said. The system will be “fully outfitted with instrumentation so that it will be appropriate for a wealth of student research projects,” she said.

She also said the University will install motion sensors that will turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.

The price tag on Stinson-Remick Hall is $69.4 million and it will be built on the current site of University Club, which closed its doors permanently last month.