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Greenbridge installs solar panels to heat water

DTH/Amanda Purser and Ryan Kurtzman
DTH/Amanda Purser and Ryan Kurtzman

By today’s end, Greenbridge will be one step closer to achieving its environmentally friendly claim.

Greenbridge, a two-building development property on West Rosemary Street, began the installation of 45 solar panels on the roof of its 10-story East Building.

Mark Vevle, spokesman for Greenbridge Developments, said the solar panels will help power both the East and seven-story West buildings.

When the Chapel Hill Town Council approved the commercial and residential complex in 2007, environmental friendliness was one of its main selling points.

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of June.

Greenbridge’s solar panels are made by Solar Tech South, a Chapel Hill company specializing in commercial and residential solar technology.

Greenbridge is using what Solar Tech South calls commercial solar thermal technology. The heating system is primarily used for large facilities that use large amounts of hot water.

The solar panels take heat from the sun and use transfer fluids to increase the temperature of the water in the water storage tanks.

The solar panels are sized in such a way that the heat generated can heat the exact amount of water needed in Greenbridge.

The four-by-eight-foot solar panels are connected to two 800-gallon heating tanks, said Ed Witkin, director of solar operations for Solar Tech South.

He said the panels and their installation cost $155,000.

When the solar panels stop generating energy because of lack of sunlight, the development will switch to using gas-powered heat.

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said Greenbridge has prompted other major Chapel Hill development projects to adopt energy-saving techniques.

The three other major planned Chapel Hill developments — 140 West, East 54 and University Square — plan to consume 20 percent less energy than national standard, Kleinschmidt said.

“Greenbridge has really influenced other projects in the Chapel Hill area moving towards energy efficiency,” Kleinschmidt said.

“The town wants all kinds of sustainability.”

Witkin said Solar Tech South has recently seen more local commercial and residential businesses buying solar panels, whether or not it’s inspired by Greenbridge’s purchase.

Vevle said Greenbridge’s other building, the West Building, will be outfitted with a “green roof” in the coming months.

The gardening area will provide natural insulation and prevent excess water runoff.

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