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A Model of Green Living

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  • Students from Sustainability House stand near and on the roof, where the solar array will be installed. On the roof are (left to right) Megan Bressler '11 and Nic Auwaerter '11. On the balcony are (left to right) Kelsey Lerback '11, Samara Valentine '10, Sara Lupolt '11 and Carolyn Wittenbraker '11.

     
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  • Steve Spadafore is building "Solar Ben."

For Sara Lupolt ’11 and Samara Valentine ’10, it’s not about saving money on their electric bill.

It’s about reducing their carbon footprint and educating others that solar power is a viable energy source for their homes as well as good for the environment.

The Sustainable Energy Fund recently announced that the College has received a $15,000 grant to install a 300-square-foot solar array on the roof of Sustainability House. The grant aims to promote the use of renewable energy technologies on campus and in the Lancaster community.

“Solar power is something people see only as a distant possibility. We want to change that perception through example and education.” Valentine said. “Our goal at Sustainability House is to model environmental solutions for the community.”

Lupolt and Valentine live in two converted row homes, at 550 and 552 W. James St., with 21 other Franklin & Marshall College students. The residents of Sustainability House pledge to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, Lupolt explained.

“Solar is a key element in our effort to become more sustainable,” she said.

The array is expected to produce 12 to 15 kilowatt-hours per day of electric power.

The 8,643 square feet house, which contains 18 bedrooms, a common room, two kitchens and four bathrooms, consumes an average of 75 kilowatt-hours per day. The students try to conserve electricity as much as possible.

The array will cost about $20,000 to purchase and install. The College has promised to provide $6,000 in matching funds to support the project.

After the solar array is installed this summer, the house could see a 16 percent reduction in energy costs. During the summer months, when Sustainability House has limited occupancy, the array may be more than adequate to provide electric power to the house.

According to PPL, a regional utilities provider, a similarly sized solar array on a 1,500-square-foot row home in Lancaster city that uses approximately 30 kilowatt-hours of electric power each day could decrease energy consumption by between 50 and 75 percent.

“Installing the array on a typical city building allows us to study the real possibilities for solar energy in a community like Lancaster,” said Linda Fritz, chair of the department of physics & astronomy at Franklin & Marshall College.

She helped Lupolt and Valentine write the SEF grant, and together they are working with Steve Spadafore, electrical engineer with the department of physics & astronomy, to design and install the array.

Spadafore noted that the initial cost of purchasing a solar array can be daunting, but the energy savings over time, as well as the state and federal tax incentives for using solar power, make it a worthwhile investment.

“If more people consider solar as a viable alternative, it will offset energy needs,” he said.

A portion of the College’s matching funds, about $500, will help to build “Solar Ben,” a mobile array that will be used to demonstrate how solar panels works. Ben will be constructed using recycled solar panels given to the physics department by the North Museum.

Spadafore hopes to have Solar Ben ready to demonstrate its power during Green Fest on April 4, an event slated to be held on Hartman Green during Sustainability Week, March 30 to April 5.

Lupolt and Valentine said they’d like to see the College make a greater investment in alternative energy sources like solar. A similar solar array is being installed on the roof of the William H. Hackman Physical Sciences Laboratories.

“This house is a model of what can be done,” Lupolt said.

In a related story, learn more about what Franklin & Marshall College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kate Plass is doing to make solar power more affordable.