Sun Shines Bright on Hunter College Rooftops

Submitted by Noah Ginsburg

2009-01-13 20:54:50

It is a sunny Tuesday morning in early December, and I am enjoying a stunning, unobstructed South-facing view of the Manhattan skyline from the roof of Hunter College, where we are conducting a solar site survey. Just weeks ago, we were skeptical whether we would be able to obtain roof access at all, and yet after an end of the semester push with the help of Hunter College's Sustainability Council, here we were! Our diverse team consisted of Hunter students, faculty, administration and facilities, CUNY's renewable energy experts from the Center for Sustainable Energy, and CUNY engineers. We conducted this roof survey in order to determine the feasibility of installing a small solar energy system on campus for electricity generation, education and research. The roof survey was a key step in the plan of action of a new student organization, the Hunter Solar Project, which aims to bring solar energy to campus.
The Hunter Solar Project was founded in Spring 2008 by a group of students who were fed up with just talking about environmental issues, and who wanted to implement meaningful solutions on campus through direct action and education. Installing a solar energy system on campus will offset a small portion of Hunter's non-renewable energy usage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are known to cause global climate change. Additionally, the solar installation promises to create cutting edge interdisciplinary education and research opportunities, preparing members of the Hunter community for leadership roles in tomorrow's green economy.
To determine whether Hunter's roofs are ideal for solar, we relied on the engineers' expertise as well as a solar site survey tool, the Solar Pathfinder. The Solar Pathfinder is a device that uses a highly polished, transparent, convex plastic dome to analyze a site's shading. Because solar panels generate most of their electricity from direct sunlight, shade from surrounding trees, buildings and other obstructions can severely affect a solar energy system's performance. I learned how to use the Solar Pathfinder in the photovoltaic (solar electric) installation course offered by the Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College. These courses are open to the public and offered on evenings and weekends.
To our delight, our roof study confirmed that Hunter College does in fact have plenty of space that is ideal for a solar installation. Now that we know the solar project is possible, we will dedicate next semester to applying for grants to fund the project, and developing the accompanying curriculum and solar tour program that will make the solar installation such a powerful educational tool. The solar installation will serve as a gift from today's Hunter community to future generations of students. The Hunter Solar Project is only possible thanks to the hard work, enthusiasm and support from undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, academic departments, CUNY institutes, and Hunter administration. Together, the Hunter and the CUNY community are making strides to address climate change and advance sustainability in higher education. As a student driven initiative, the Hunter Solar Project demonstrates the crucial role CUNY students can play in these efforts.

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