Going Green Under The Sun

Solar panels are being installed on the Bryan Center's roof

Workers watch as a large box of solar panels is lifted onto the roof of the Bryan Center. The panels are expected to be installed in October and will provide some of the hot water used in the building. (Photo courtesy of Sergey Furer)

The sun won't set any time soon on Duke's sustainable efforts.

With about 230 days of sunshine every year, Duke will soon start putting Durham's sunny days to good use by collecting sunlight to heat a portion of water used at the Bryan Center. This month, Facilities Management oversaw the start of a project to install 45 solar-thermal panels on the roof of the building, which will heat 30 to 40 percent of hot water used in the Bryan Center.

"Ultimately, this is going to displace an amount of steam we use at the Bryan Center to heat water, which means we'll be using less steam and burning less natural gas," said Steve Palumbo, energy manager for Facilities Management. "It's a chain effect of sustainable practices."

The panels will be set in three rows of 15 on the Bryan Center's roof. Each panel is 40-square feet large, covering a total of 1,800-square feet. As the panels collect sunlight, they will heat water stored in tubes underneath the panels. That hot water will be transferred to a roughly 2,000-gallon tank in a loading dock area before going out for use in restrooms and other areas in the Bryan Center.

The new solar panels are the third solar project at Duke. Both the Home Depot Smart Home and Marine Lab in Beaufort use solar panels to heat water, provide electricity, or both. After moving the panels to the roof of the Bryan Center at the beginning of September, Facilities will oversee the installation that begins this week. The Facilities Management team expects the solar panels to be operational by the end of October.

Palumbo said the Bryan Center's system will be owned by Holocene, a renewable energy development company, with Duke buying the hot water. Duke isn't paying any capital costs for the project, which will help toward the goal of Duke's Climate Action Plan to become carbon neutral by 2024.

"I'm excited to see solar thermal becoming a reality in one of the most highly trafficked buildings at Duke," said Tavey Capps, Duke's sustainability director. "Adding renewable energy systems to the student union sends a clear message that reducing our environmental footprint is a campus priority and we look forward to new ways of expanding these efforts in the future."