The idea started years ago— when the New Science Building was under construction, a faculty member decided to apply for a grant to get seven solar panels installed on part of the building’s roof. Now, there is a solar farm at Eastern Kentucky University, providing clean, renewable energy to some campus buildings.
Judy Jenkins, a chemistry professor, explains how solar panels became a part of EKU.
“A faculty member in geo sciences [named] Alice Jones, applied for a grant to get seven solar panels put on the roof on the first phase of the New Science Building. To my knowledge, that was the first permanent installation of solar panels on campus,” Jenkins said.
The solar panels went online in 2017, and, shortly after that, more panels were installed on the other part of the roof of the New Science Building. Most of the panels were either donated or given through grants, which saved the university money.
“A few years after that, 120 more panels [that] went on the roof [during] the second phase of the science building were put online. So, all of those were either grant-funded or donated to the university. So, the university didn’t have to purchase those, but they save us cost in electricity,” Jenkins said.
The hardware for the panels is leased through a small business, so the bill is slightly less than it would be without the panels. The big difference is the amount of emissions the university has cut down on.
“The monetary savings are not super huge. However, for the farm, the bigger deal is, we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions,’’ Jenkins said.
The new solar farm is located on the corner of Kit Carson Drive and Lancaster Avenue. EKU will be able to generate about 450,000 kilowatt-hours a year, which is the equivalent to the energy needed to power roughly 40 homes for a year.
Having the solar farm is a test to see how solar panels will benefit the university. If it goes well, then there is certainty that more solar panels will come.
“We would love to have more,” Jenkins said. The university has never leased solar panels like this before, and part of the benefit is that the small business does the maintenance, so we want to see how that arrangement works out.”
There is a website in the works for students and faculty to use that will house data from the solar panels to provide a more practical experience and new way of learning.
“It’s [the website] not up and running just yet, but we will allow students to interact with that data. We learn about it in a classroom, but these solar panels are really putting it to action and giving students a way to watch science happening,” Jenkins said.
With this solar farm, along with the existing solar panels around campus, EKU now has the largest solar capabilities of any public college in Kentucky.