Campus strives to expand energy sustainability


University officials are looking to steer the campus toward a more environmentally friendly community by bringing more solar panels to Livingston campus and charging docks for electric cars.

The University plans to install the additional solar panels — which will be 32 acres long and will produce eight megawatts of electricity — by January 2013. The system in place now covers seven acres and produces 1.4 megawatts of electricity, said Joseph Witkowski, director of Utilities Operations.

The solar farm has two functions: It not only produces electricity but also creates heated water as a byproduct, said Michael Kornitas, Energy Conservation manager.

The current solar farm on Livingston campus produces 11 percent of the electricity needed, which is enough electricity for 145 average homes, Kornitas said.

At $40 million, the new solar-powered system will be more expensive than the system already in place, which cost $10 million, Witkowski said. The majority of the funding will come from the Solar Renewable Energy Credit program, a state subsidy program.

But Witkowski said the investment is worth it, as Livingston campus would never look the same.

“We will be providing around 50 percent of Livingston’s power … saving over a million dollars a year,” he said.

In addition to the solar canopy project, the University is also putting in a geothermal system for the Rutgers Business School building on Livingston campus, Witkowski said.

The construction for this will finish in the next couple of weeks, and the geothermal project will be complete in the fall of 2012, he said.   

“We drill a whole lot of holes in the ground, and we dig down approximately 500 feet per hole,” Witkowski said. “For heating and cooling the building, we utilize the Earth’s core temperature to offset the energy costs that it would normally take to heat or cool a building.”

When most power plants make electricity from a turbine, they lose all the excessive heat, yielding 40 percent efficiency, he said. But if the plant is able to utilize the heat, then it brings the efficiency up to almost 80 percent.

Monica Mazurek, director of the Environment and Energy Program, said investing in the capital system and hardware is low maintenance that lasts for a few decades, saving money and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The University is also working to recharge systems for electric cars powered by the cogeneration plant and the solar panels, Mazurek said.

There are two ChargePoint America recharging systems for electric cars at the Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation on Busch campus, powered by the cogeneration plant and the solar panels, Mazurek said. The reason for this small number is that electric cars are more expensive than cars that run on petroleum.

Dunbar Birnie, professor of materials science and engineering, said the problem of plug-in technology becomes a matter of where to invest the money.

“Do we put money into a lot of infrastructure and charging when there are no cars to plug in?” Birnie asked. “Or do we put a lot of money into new kinds of cars and not have places to plug them in?”

He wants faculty members to push the envelope even further in order to expand other projects.

“I’m trying to get a funded project going that … could give insight into how could we help people transition from regular cars to plug in vehicles that would use solar power,” Birnie said.

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