Stanford Students Tap Solar Power

The process that brought Stanford University’s most ambitious on-campus solar energy project to date to the rooftop of Synergy House was, in a word, synergistic.

San Francisco, California – November 13, 2003 [] Synergy House cooperative members, who live near the top of San Juan Hill in a historic wood-frame mansion, had a nearly US$30,000 windfall that they wanted to put toward installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof to supplement the house’s electrical system with renewable energy. Student Housing, which maintains the house, needed to make repairs, including a full roof replacement. After working together for two years, Synergy residents, former residents and Student Housing last summer installed a 54-panel solar energy system — three arrays with 18 panels on each — on top of a new roof. The system is expected to produce more than 11,000 kWh of electricity a year and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that otherwise would be released into the air by 15,444 pounds, according to Student Housing calculations. By generating energy during peak demand periods during the day, the solar panels will trim electricity costs by about 20 percent, said Rob Kolar, energy coordinator for Student Housing, who worked with students to complete the project. To make the deal even sweeter, the project qualified for a rebate of nearly $30,000 from the state, he said. Student Housing funded about $20,000 of the project. The rooftop solar energy system is a good fit for Synergy, said Justin Kuczynski, resident house manager. Founded in the 1970s by students who were studying alternative lifestyles, the cooperative still attracts students interested in alternative living, he said. Members compost their kitchen scraps, grow some of their own food and buy organic, locally grown produce whenever possible, he said. Recent work on the house also included repainting the house in its original colors, replacing the oak hardwood floors on the first floor and installing a new high-efficiency gas furnace. The house’s shingle siding was preserved, and Student Housing worked with the university architect’s office on placing the rooftop panels so that that the modern technology alters the house’s historic appearance as little as possible, Kolar said. The functioning of the solar energy system can be monitored by students through a website that tracks the amount of energy generated by each of the three arrays on the roof. The website is accessible through a Student Housing website listed at the link below. Kolar created the website to help raise awareness of Student Housing’s energy and water conservation efforts. A project like the solar panels makes a real statement — and Kolar said other solar projects are being considered on campus — but the university also invests hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in lower profile projects, he said. For instance, during the upcoming Winter Break, Stern Hall toilets will be replaced with low-flush models, a change that is expected to save 2 million gallons of water a year, he said. But “if all goes well, students won’t be able to tell too much of a difference.” Other projects listed on the website include installing programmable thermostats and retrofitting lighting fixtures and appliances with high-efficiency models in student residences. The website also provides links to student environmental groups and to academic programs that address environmental issues. The willingness of Synergy students to invest in clean energy illustrates what Kolar said he has come to learn about students: They care a lot about conservation. He hadn’t expected to encounter so much student interest in conserving energy when he started work in his position, he said. Conversely, Kolar said it continues to surprise him how little students seem to think that the university cares about promoting energy and water conservation. “A lot of things that we do are invisible.” This story courtesy of Barbara Palmer, Stanford News Office.


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