Harnessing the Power of the Sun

Grace Dennis, Class of 2015 & Evelyn Rhodes

Colgate University claims to be a leader in the field of sustainability. Striving to reach carbon neutrality by the 2019 commitment date signed in President Herbst’s Climate Action Plan, many initiatives are being implemented around campus. Carbon neutrality means that the net carbon emissions on campus will equal zero, either through changing practices to reduce emissions tolls, or engaging in offsets to make up for carbon emissions. This goal is impressive, and reaching it will highlight Colgate as a proactive and environmentally conscious institution. The question now is how will we do it?

Last year, solar hot water heaters were installed onto the south-facing wall of the Creative Arts House at 100 Broad Street. Green Bikes have become increasingly popular, with student demand exceeding the supply of bicycles available for rent. Facilities is currently making the switch from fuel oil no. 6 to natural gas for campus-wide heating, augmented by the wood fire boiler that burns

locally produced wood chips. Trudy Fitness Center is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, and the Ho and Lathrop are close behind, as their renovations were conducted with emissions reductions in mind. Now the Sustainability Council, a group of like-minded faculty, staff and students, gathers biweekly to consider possible next steps for Colgate to take on its mission toward carbon neutrality.

Solar power is a real, harness-able energy. Plants demonstrate this well, and humans are beginning to catch on, too! The solar hot water heaters have been measurably successful, reducing use of fuel oil by 900 tons and saving Colgate thousands of dollars. Continuing to install solar hot water heaters would definitely help to reduce the heating costs on campus and, as a result, our collective carbon footprint. However, we don’t use energy just for heating. Solar energy may help us to reduce the cost of emissions and may even turn out to have fiscal benefits as well.

Recently, solar power has been rapidly gaining popularity. The decrease in cost of the panels themselves and implementation of them on private property has led to not only skyrocketing interest, but also severe push back from nonrenewable energy companies. Tax reductions associated with renewables are up, and the competition for energy prices is in full swing. Not only does investment in solar panels generate clean, renewable and potentially profitable energy (excess energy can be sold back to the public grid), but it also reduces power plant usage, which in turn influences power plant production.

Power plants are run based on demand data; the amount of energy produced and distributed fluctuates throughout the day as people move from their homes, to work spaces, back home and eventually go to sleep. So investing in solar energy is a double whammy of simultaneously divesting from power plants. The more people go “off grid,” the less power-plant generated energy will be needed. This means that solar power is not only a sustainable option for reducing a person or institution’s carbon footprint, but also shows commitment to leadership in the environmental movement, through its correlated influence on the fossil fuel reliant energy sector. Perhaps it is time for Colgate to bite the bullet and jump on the bandwagon!