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The Daily Tar Heel

Student sustainability group working to build solar panel resources on campus buildings


The Morrison Residency Hall solar panels, as pictured on Feb. 17, 2022. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee's building plans on campus. They are working to install motion sensor lights in several dorms across campus. The Daily Tar Heel apologies for this error. 

While environmental sustainability clubs have been advocating for clean energy alternatives at UNC for several years, one environmentally conscious location on campus stands out — the solar panels on the roof of Morrison Residence Hall. 

Morrison is the only dormitory at UNC to have solar panel installations and real-time energy consumption monitors. Funding for the panels came from Carolina Housing, grants and a renewable energy fee included in students’ tuition.

“The panels located on the roof of Morrison are solar water heating panels, not photovoltaic panels that generate electricity,” Cindy Register, Executive Director of Engineering and Construction Services, wrote in an email. “These panels are used to heat water for domestic hot water usage.”

The array, which was installed in August of 2005, was made possible through efforts from the student-led Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee. The committee has also been working on other solar panel projects that will be implemented for new buildings around campus.

There are currently plans to use panels that generate electricity at Carolina North and Curtis Media Center — both of which are under construction. There is also a large solar footprint planned at the Kenan-Flagler Business School that is currently in the design phase, Register said. 

The committee receives about $250,000 every year to fund renewable energy projects around campus through a $4 renewable energy fee that is embedded into UNC tuition costs. For projects, there is also a consultation and proposal process.

Junior Ideliya Khismatova, a co-chairperson on the committee, said there are plans for The Curtis Media Center to have roughly 60 solar panels on its roof, which would account for about 40 percent of the building’s electricity output. 

In addition, the committee is also planning on launching an energy monitoring dashboard.   

"Students can see the energy produced by the solar panels on campus or how much a building is using energy-wise,” Khismatova said. 

Jim Clayton, the dormitory's sustainability officer, has hosted events within Morrison to advocate for more compost bins around campus. He said while the heating panels do some good, there are cheaper ways to make buildings more energy-efficient.

“Some buildings on campus have changed out their windows, which has actually had a larger energy savings (effect) than having solar panels on top of the building,” Clayton said. "Windows are one of the main losses of heat or cool air."

Clayton and Khismatova stressed the importance of student involvement for getting more projects achieved around campus.

“I want to help encourage students that are interested in learning about renewable energy to get involved with projects, which will also be implemented in our own community so that we will all benefit from (them),” Khismatova said.

There are currently plans for RESPC to install motion sensor lights in several dorms across campus. 

“The student organizations, despite having funding are still pretty limited," Clayton said, " get quick change, I do think it’ll take the student body as a whole showing that it’s a priority and something that they really want to achieve."

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