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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Students reach for power of sun

Kevin Brost
Kevin Brost / Arizona Daily Wildcat Kyle Mittan discusses the sustainability project of dormitories Likens Hall and Posada San Pedro with Katherine Weingartner, the leader of the project on October 3, 2011. Katherine demonstrates the Building Dashboard monitoring system, which displays statistics on water and electricity use on an interactive touchscreen display which is available for public use.

With a bevy of ongoing and new sustainability projects in the works, UA students are finding many ways to make the most out of Tucson’s 350-plus days of sunshine.

The largest of these projects has been Posada San Pedro Residence Hall’s new photovoltaic solar panels. They have been the largest solar initiative project on campus.

The project was almost entirely student-run, which was no accident; it was meant to be an educational experience.

“Yes, it’s a great sustainability project, and it’s great for the environment,” said Alex Blandeburgo, the assistant director and director of facilities for Residence Life. “But we also wanted it to be very hands on, and very educational.”

SolarCats, with some help from Students for Sustainability — the group that established the UA Green Fund — all worked together over the past three years since the project’s inception.

The project, which cost $94,000, was funded with appropriations from the Student Services Fee Board, Metropolitan Energy Commission, UA Green Fund, Tucson Luxury Power Rebate and UA Residence Life.

Katherine Weingartner, a senior studying public management and policy and former president of SolarCats, is the program director of the project, known as Posada San Pedro Solar Powered. After signing on her freshman year, Weingartner and the rest of the team moved forward with the idea that the project could be excellent from a sustainability standpoint and provide an educational opportunity as well.

“I didn’t just want the solar panels to be up there generating electricity,” Weingartner said. “I want students to actually use that data, and that’s why there’s a monitoring system.”

The monitoring system is a large, touch-screen monitor mounted on the wall in the building’s lobby. The cost came to around $7,000 for the unit and its software. While Posada San Pedro is the only residence hall on campus with a collection of solar panels adorning its rooftop, Likins Hall and Árbol de la Vida Residence Hall are all equipped with similar systems. The system itself is a tool students can use to monitor electricity and water usage.

The system also converts monthly usage into identifiable units, such as plastic bottles or dishwasher loads. Weingartner said she predicts that many different fields of study will be able to use this information.

According to Weingartner, the most surprising thing about the program at Posada San Pedro was that it actually happened.

“There’s so much work involved in this,” she said. “There’s a lot of red tape, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy. You have to build relationships with all these people and the support system. That took a while to do.”

But despite the success of Posada San Pedro Solar Powered, Weingartner said she would still like to see the UA take more thoughtful steps toward solar sustainability, and consider the inevitable technological advances in the solar energy industry.

Posada San Pedro Solar Powered is not the only solar project students are running.

SolarCats has worked with Tucson for Sustainability to help install solar panels at Second Street Children’s School, and also designed and installed a sustainability mural on the back of Slonaker House with the help of the Honors College.

Photovoltaic peel-and-stick sheets are also on the SolarCats’ radar, according Rebecca Veach, the group’s president.

The next big sustainability program is the UA Community Garden, another joint project between Students for Sustainability and SolarCats. UA Community Garden will consist of several garden plots located on the southeast corner of Highland Avenue and Mabel Street, which will be rented out to students for as little as $10 a month. Students will be able to use their gardens to grow just about anything.

“The project is intended to teach students where food comes from, basic gardening skills, and is also a way to keep food centralized,” said Natalie Lucas, executive program director of Students for Sustainability.

But the garden itself is only one part of the project; plans to have a timed drip system and a ramada with electrical outlets — all solar powered, of course — are also in place.

According to Lucas, preliminary research is also being done to find out whether several of the university’s golf carts can be converted to run on solar power.

“Sustainability, for a long time, has been portrayed as this hippie nonsense, when really, it’s not,” Lucas said. “It’s really intelligent people trying to figure out how to use our resources in the most efficient way possible.”

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