Solar panel group happy with results, starts new project

The 20 solar panels on Brady Hall’s roof have been producing energy non-stop after being installed in February. The students who have been involved with the panels from idea to installation are happy with how the panels are working so far.

“As of now, they have produced over 1.5 megawatt-hours averaging 20 kilowatt-hours per day,” said senior David Dahl, a member of the student group in charge of putting up the panels, in an email.

But one major question remains: Have the panels saved St. Thomas money? The goal when the panels were installed was to reduce energy costs by $500 a year.

However, it is almost impossible to determine how much money is actually saved from the panels because all electricity on north campus is in a giant loop, Dahl said.

“It’s hard to accurately determine what kind of impact the panels are having on campus because Brady Hall has no students in the summer and sees the most sunshine during those months,” Dahl said. “This means that it has a larger impact in the summer than in the winter. Regardless, the impact is positive.”

He explained the complex process the panels use to convert light into energy.

“The sun sends photons, the basic unit of light, to solar panels which creates a flow of electrons….This flow is known as a direct current,” Dahl said. “The direct current goes into an inverter to turn it into an alternating current…..almost all appliances use alternating current because it can travel great distances. Then it goes into the grid and is used through Brady Hall.”

Student group starts phantom power strip project

The student group that put up the panels is also working on new projects to make St.Thomas more green. The students received a second grant from the Pepsi grant program at St. Thomas and wanted to find a way to effectively use the energy the panels create.

About 100 phantom power strips were purchased to be used in the residence halls. These strips help stop appliances from using energy even when the appliances are turned off. Televisions and computers are the main appliances that use energy even when switched off.

“We want to distribute the strips to volunteers who are interested. This way we can be assured that those who are passionate about going green will use them,” Dahl said.

Dahl has been working with Director of Residence Life Aaron Macke to distribute the power strips to students.

“We want to give interested students the opportunity to receive these free of charge,”  Macke said. “They will be available to any hall, and each student will be given instructions on how to make the strip work to its highest potential. This is an entirely new program, so we really have no idea what the reaction may be.”

The strips have already been ordered and cost about $35 each. A mass e-mail will be sent in the next week or two and any student can sign up to receive one of the 100 strips on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“Because we can’t monitor the savings, this has to be more educational for students,” Macke said. “We hope to have students use them for the full year, survey their thoughts and how many students originally wanted one, and if things are positive, possibly look into buying more for future years.”

But students don’t necessarily need one of “these fancy power strips” to go green, Dahl said.

“Simply turning off lights, recycling, taking the stairs, and unplugging appliances will have a great[er] effect than anything else,” he said. “UST needs to come together as a community to commit to conserving energy. Only then will we see huge results.”

Meg Tvrdik can be reached at