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Solar panels prepare UA for green future

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Gordon Bates | The Daily Wildcat Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat The solar panels on the top of the Second Street Garage provide shade for the vehicles parked on the roof level as well as produce usable electric energy for campus facilities.

The solar panels atop the Second Street Garage are the first and most visible component of an initiative to make the UA campus eco-friendly. 


The Second Street Garage panels, which are currently the biggest grouping of solar panels on campus, are being tested before they are used to produce energy and make the campus greener.

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The Sustainable Endowments Institute's annual college report card gave the UA's transportation department an ""A"" and the university as a whole a ""B"" for their sustainability efforts,


The solar panels are a definite part of that, said Bill Davidson, marketing and communications manager for Parking and Transportation Services.


The crystalline solar panels transfer sunlight into direct current electric energy, such as the energy used in a car battery.


The project is taking ""baby steps"" towards a larger campus effort, said Ralph Banks, assistant director of engineering on the solar panel project.


The photovoltaic panels were attached at a 10-degree slant on a recycled steel framework atop the garage, Banks said.


""They serve as a testament to the university's commitment to renewable energy and sustainability and that location was chosen for a reason,"" said Lon Huber, a spokesman for the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy. ""That's a prime location that can really showcase the U of A as a leader of sustainability.""


Funded through tax incentives and help from utility company APS Energy Services, these solar panels cost the UA nothing up front on the condition that the UA buy the energy that is produced from APS Energy Services, who will finance, maintain and operate the system.


Roughly 200 kilowatts of electricity are produced by 1,150 panels. That energy will go toward powering the garage's operations and any excess energy will be funneled into other campus buildings. Although it's only a small dent in the 28 megawatts the UA sometimes consumes in the high-usage summer months, the updates should reduce the UA's carbon footprint by an estimated 2,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.


""We are excited about the solar makeover on the Second Street Garage. It keeps along with both the university's and Parking and Transportation (Service)'s sustainability mission,"" Davidson said.


The panels also create shade on the upper levels of the parking garage, a major benefit, he said.


Banks agreed that the panels are ""multi-beneficial,"" since they can provide research as well as sustainability opportunities for the university.


This effort is following a heritage of sustainable building which dates back to Old Main more than 200 years ago which has features including energy-conserving shutters and minimal maintence requirements.


""We were sustainable before it was fashionable,"" Banks sai.


Four other buildings are slated to have either photovoltaic, electricity-producing solar panels or solar thermal panels, which are used to heat water, installed.


McClelland Hall — the UA's biggest future solar panel project — and McClelland Park, like the Second Street Garage, will eventually be able to generate their own electricity and reduce their carbon footprint via photovoltaic panels.


The Hillenbrand Aquatic Center and the Student Recreation Center will get solar thermal panels, which will generate hot water for their swimming pools and showers. The panels should be operational within a few months, Banks said.


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