By Emmanuella Aina and Destinie Holiday
The University of Houston Central Plant implemented the use of solar panels to reduce energy and power low-voltage equipment like receptacles, lights and computers after the upgrade to the Central Plant building was completed in 2012.
There are currently 88 solar panels measuring 3 feet by 4 feet in sitting atop the roof.
Since their initial installation, over half of the panels were noted as inoperable. Central Plant Electrician Randy Wagner collaborated with a repair company for over a year in order to get all 88 panels in working order.
Although the original company that installed the panels is no longer in existence, Wagner worked with another company and they repaired the solar panels at no cost since they were still under warranty. Thanks to Wagner’s persistence with this project, as of October 2016, all of the solar panels are up and running to their full potential.
Wagner knew the panels were not operating efficiently because they are connected to a reporting software called Enlighten. This program notifies the Central Plant electricians when there are issues with the panels along with other reports explaining the amount of energy and acres of trees saved each month.
Over the last six months since the repair of the last panel, the reports obtained from Enlighten show 228 trees from were saved by the use of the newly repaired panels.
The Central Plant consists of a 12-person crew with plans to continue to embark on other energy conservation projects. Sustainable projects on their list include plant optimization which entails a fully automated system controlled by computers which will run based on a “sweet spot” trigger response. This type of set-up would balance energy needed by each building and therefore be much more conservative of the earth’s resources.
They have also been successful in the implementation of piping condensation from the air handling units from different buildings on campus. Every new building added will automatically have this feature in the scope of work during construction which means the Central Plant has less water needed to make-up for evaporation from the cooling towers.
Another lofty goal is to use the draft from the tower water to power a wind generator. Taking full advantage of the renewable available resources was the vision when they installed the solar panels and continues to be part of their future plans.