Friends University library going solar

By next week, students at the Friends University library will be reading by sunlight, even when they’re far from any windows.

The university is installing a 29-panel, 9.5 kilowatt solar-power array at the entrance to the Edmund Stanley Library that will provide electricity to run lights, computers and other equipment inside.

The $85,000 installation is part of a demonstration project being run by Westar Energy to raise awareness of solar power in the Sunflower State.

The direct current generated by the panels goes through an “inverter” on the side of the building where it will be converted into regular alternating current that will augment the power the university currently buys from Westar. The installation should be up and running by Friday, or possibly early next week, depending mostly on the weather conditions.

The eastern front of the building is not the best place for the panels because it is shaded from the afternoon sun, but the site was selected as a compromise between power generation and public visibility, said Patrick Attwater, the chief executive officer of One80 solar, the company installing the unit.

“One of the requirements was that it was going to be visible to the public and educational, so if you look at a lot of the projects, this one is probably the most visible of all these solar projects ... in the fact that it’s this awning across the front of the library,” Attwater said. “And as we’re installing it, you’re seeing all the students and teachers and faculty walking by and taking pictures and asking lots of questions so we know that the visibility part is working.”

Amy Carey, the president of the university, said they were honored to be chosen for the demonstration project, one of 15 around the state being supported by Westar, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

“We are anticipating some savings over time,” Carey said. “That is a part of the initiative to become more sustainable and friendly to the environment.”

But the most important part for the university is the educational aspect, she said.

“We will have a kiosk in the library ... for students to take a look at the energy usage and the panels and how they’re helping to provide energy,” Carey said. “The students are really excited about it. We’re hearing good buzz.”

Part of the buzz was figuring out what was going on.

“To be honest, at first I didn’t know what it was,” said Emerson Romero, a sophomore majoring in international business. “But then once I saw the solar panels, I was actually impressed that our school was actually taking advantage of a natural system.”

“It’s going to save the school probably a lot of money, it’s going to be energy efficient,” added his friend, Demetri Karabinas, a senior computer science and business major. “I think it will help us out in the long run.”

The $85,000 project cost includes the installation of the panels, inverter and wiring, along with 25 years of maintenance and the educational parts, including the kiosks, Attwater said.

“These are the top of the line, the most advanced commercially available panels on the market,” he said.