Harvesting the sun
The final phase of the University of Northern Iowa's new Multimodal Transportation Center (MMTC) is underway and is another component of the university's leadership in sustainability.
By the end of the summer, 11 rows of photovoltaic (PV) panels will top the MMTC, harvesting the sun's energy rather than reflecting it back into the atmosphere. The energy produced, in conjunction with the building's geothermal heating system, supplies approximately all of the energy needs for the building, making it a net-zero energy use building -- one of Iowa's first.
The 960 crystalline PV panels lining the MMTC roof are each 3 by 5 feet and weigh approximately 40 pounds. Each year they will produce approximately 263,600 kWhr of electricity. The system will connect into the university's electrical infrastructure, and any energy not used in the building will be used elsewhere on campus.
The MMTC's PV addition places the PV panel array above the top deck of the parking ramp, tilted up toward the south, to ensure the maximum amount of electricity can be generated through all four seasons.
According to a 2008 report by students enrolled in UNI's Professional Science Master's program, a PV system needs a sturdy base or support system, and shading is always a concern. Using roofs on campus -- many of which are large, flat and above nearby structures and trees -- for PV systems is a wise use of campus space.
The PV system also is an educational tool, as alternative energies and solar energy, specifically, become larger players in areas of study such as science, technology, political science and sociology. UNI already has held courses specifically on solar energy and sustainability, coordinates solar technology training and provides outreach to K through 12 schools in energy conservation and renewable energies.