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College, Industry Partner For Sustainable Future

Hartnell solar canopy rendering
A solar canopy will be constructed above the main parking lot of Hartnell College’s Alisal campus, helping to meet the college’s renewable energy goals and serving as a living laboratory for students in the college’s sustainable design, construction, and engineering programs. Chevron Energy Solutions

Hartnell College, a community college just south of San José, California, is expanding the educational opportunities for its engineering and construction students by developing renewable energy sources on campus.

May 7, 2013—Chevron Energy Solutions, of San Francisco, and Hartnell College, in Salinas, California, broke ground last month on a solar canopy project that will add a new dimension to sustainability. To be constructed on the college’s Alisal campus, the canopy will help meet the college’s renewable energy goals and serve as a living laboratory for students enrolled in the college’s sustainable design, construction, or engineering programs.

“The … Alisal campus houses Hartnell College’s Advanced Technology Center, offering instruction in the latest technologies in design, construction, and engineering—making it a good fit for this project,” notes Mike Thomas, the director of Hartnell’s Center for Sustainable Design and Construction. Hartnell is one of only a handful of two-year colleges nationwide that specialize in sustainable design and offer a program in civil construction, he adds. The college established the Center for Sustainable Design and Construction in 2007 and now offers associate degrees in sustainable design and sustainable construction, the emphasis being on construction for commerce, light industry, and infrastructure.

The solar canopy, which will have more than 1,800 photovoltaic panels, is being installed over the main parking lot of the Alisal campus. “One of the design criteria was to take full advantage of the resources offered by the existing campus,” says David Yung Lei, P.E., a project engineer with Chevron Energy Solutions. “Our solution was to design a solar canopy that serves the dual purpose of providing shade and generating electricity,” Yung Lei says. The canopy was preapproved by the California Department of General Services’ Division of the State Architect.

The 98,000 sq ft solar canopy is the second component of the Alisal campus’s burgeoning “microgrid,” which also includes a wind turbine constructed in March. Hartnell College is developing the microgrid with the long-term goal of generating all of its energy itself and using only renewable sources.

From the beginning of the canopy’s planning phase, students in the college’s sustainable design, construction, and engineering programs have been gaining an insight into renewable energy through hands-on work. “Student interns used HOMER [developed by HOMER Energy LLC, of Boulder, Colorado], a specialized software program, to analyze the campus’s energy consumption and develop projections for alternative energy supply, use, and cost,” Thomas says. And since ground was broken in mid-April, the site is offering additional opportunities. “This is a new, evolving program in which we are collaborating with the UCSC [University of California at Santa Cruz] Center for Sustainable Energy and Power Systems,” Thomas says. UCSC, which offers four-year degrees in renewable energy and ecological design, is helping Hartnell integrate sustainable energy into its science and math curricula.

Chevron Energy Solutions will design, construct, operate, and maintain the solar canopy, and the firm is also deeply involved in supporting the college’s academic goals. It will lend its expertise to the development of learning labs in which Web-accessible data on the canopy’s activity will be available for Hartnell’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Having a full-size, fully functioning solar canopy on campus will open up opportunities for students to study renewable energy in a realistic setting, Thomas notes. The possibilities include having students use the operating data from the canopy to analyze its performance and then compare that to the performance of the wind turbine, which will be especially useful in gauging energy production, energy use, and efficiency. With assistance from UCSC and Chevron, the college hopes to have related curricula established by the time the solar canopy is operational, which will be this July.

The plan also includes having student interns in Hartnell’s sustainable construction and sustainable design programs work directly with the Chevron Energy Solutions team. That work experience, coupled with laboratory and classroom learning, will equip students to enter the developing “green” workforce directly and aid them if they choose to pursue a four-year degree program. Hartnell partners with the four-year civil engineering programs at UCSC, California Polytechnic State University (“Cal Poly”), and San José State University. Students who earn an associate degree in civil engineering at Hartnell are guaranteed admission to one of these institutions.

When completed, the Alisal solar canopy will have a generating capacity of more than 500 kW and supply 90 percent of the campus’s electricity needs. Over its estimated 25-year service life, the canopy will yield approximately $6 million in energy savings for the college. “At current usage levels, Hartnell College expects the Alisal campus to consume all of the energy the solar canopies produce, reducing its energy purchases from the grid by ninety percent,” Yung Lei says.

Along with construction of the solar canopy, Chevron is replacing the parking lot’s 250 W incandescent lights with 46 W light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. “The LEDs will yield better light quality as well as cost savings,” Yung Lei notes. The combined savings from the solar canopy and the LED retrofit will allow the college to retain capital funds to further its academic objectives in science and engineering. Hartnell College has been recognized nationally for its efforts in helping Hispanic students and students from other minority groups to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines.


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