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Sustainability Days event showcases Ruffner Hall solar installation

Rooftop tour highlights U.Va.’s green energy efforts

<p>Tuesday's tour showcased Ruffner's solar panels, which were unveiled in 2016</p>

Tuesday's tour showcased Ruffner's solar panels, which were unveiled in 2016

On Tuesday, students and members of the public explored the solar paneled roof of Ruffner Hall, learning about the University’s solar endeavors and its goals for embracing green energy. This tour was part of the University’s Sustainability Days, a series of events that aim to highlight the University’s various sustainable and green-energy-related achievements.

William Evans, an electrical engineering associate in the University’s Facilities Management Department, and Jesse Warren, the sustainability program manager for Buildings and Operations at the University, led the rooftop solar tour and discussed the strides the University has taken in recent years to implement solar technology.

The rooftop installations at Ruffner Hall and the University’s bookstore were unveiled in late 2016 as part of a complete multi-year pilot program initiated by Dominion Energy. Electricity created on these rooftops is sent back to Dominion’s main power supply, and is redistributed across the grid, making everyone’s power a little more green. Other rooftop installations on grounds are owned and operated by the University, such as the rooftops of Clemons library, Skipwith Hall and the Alderman Road substation.

“Rooftop renewables are really important because they send a signal that the university's committed to renewable energy, and committed to reducing our greenhouse gas footprint,” Warren said. “They also offer us a more tangible opportunity for teaching and research.“

The largest solar venture being undertaken by the University, however, is its off Grounds installations of solar farms in King William County and Middlesex County in Virginia. According to Warren, these solar farms will be cost-effective and, in the future, make a substantial dent in the University’s carbon footprint.

“We’ve signed two deals for what we call the Hollyfield site and the Puller site,” Warren said. “Between the two of them, there’ll be about 32 megawatts of AC power and that’ll equal about 20 percent of the University’s electricity consumption.”

This venture is a part of the University’s overarching sustainability plan and greenhouse gas plans, both launched less than a year ago. Out of the 161,800 MTCDE (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) needed to be reduced to also offset future footprint growth, a reduction of 40,166 MTCDE, or 11 percent, has been achieved, as of 2016.

“We’ve been talking about energy issues on grounds for years,” Warren said. “But now that we’ve got some movement on solar, people are getting really energized – no pun intended.”

Both he and Schroeder credit students as being a large part of the University’s advocacy for sustainability and clean energy.

“So much of what we do is from the grounds up, and that energizes all of us,” Schroeder said. “I think a lot of times students will have ideas that U.Va. faculty and staff could never have dreamed of, because maybe we’re too bogged down in ‘that might not be feasible’ or ‘I don’t know how we would do this.’” 

The Office of Sustainability aims to reach more students in the future, to expand awareness about green solutions and advocacy, by combining sustainability with the goals and values of students.

“What we’re trying to do more and more, to reach people beyond our current supporters, is partner to frame sustainability in terms of something else that might be someone’s interest,” Schroeder said. “So more and more we’re talking about issues of diversity and equity, because those are inherently tied to sustainability.”