Here Comes the Sun: Williams Students Propose Solar Energy Future

At the final Log Lunch of the semester, three students from the Environmental Planning Class presented their findings on Williams College’s potential for solar polar generation. Caroline Ro, Isabelle Zollinger, and Cole Whitehouse (all from the class of 2023) worked with two clients—Tana Srebotnjak, the Director of Zilkha Center Environmental Initiatives and Jason Moran, Assistant Director for Energy and Utilities from Facilities —throughout the fall semester in developing a comprehensive analysis of the college’s opportunity for installing solar panels over the coming years. In their analysis, they considered both cultural and technical implications of potential sites; among this criteria, the students looked at the topography, shading, and orientation of potential sites, and also avoided land consisting of hayfields, as these are locations of potential carbon-sinks. The characteristics for ideal roofs are described as flat, south-facing, and not made of slate. Students also considered parking lots for potential installations of carports. One of the biggest considerations in the analysis was the ease of connection to the Williams grid; sites that would be trickier to connect to the larger grid would be more costly for installation.

Keeping these conditions in mind, the students found a total of 17 sites on and off campus for potential installation, listed below with the total amount of energy potential (described in terms of the average American household) generated by solar panels: Chandler Athletic Building ( 8.3 average homes/year), 62 Center (10 homes), Chapin Hall (6.6 homes), Bernhard music Center (4.3 homes), Spencer Studio (9.6 homes), Children’s Center (6.1 homes), Gladden Field and Greylock Parking lot (18.1 and 17.9 homes), Grundy’s Garage (10 homes), and Spring Street Parking Lot (34.4 homes). The total amount of energy generated by these potential sites would be around 2 megawatts, accounting for 50-100% of the college’s energy usage depending on the period of high or low energy consumption.

Along with these potential sites, the students included the following recommendations in their report: they suggest that all new building plans  account for installing solar panels on the roofs, to always consider the current use of land before developing plans for solar installation or other renewable resources, and that the college should consider wind energy as another part of its mission to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

From left to right: Tanja Srebotnjak, Sarah Gardner, Isabelle Zollinger, Caroline Ro, Cole Whitehouse, and Jason Moran

Log Lunch goers enjoyed a delicious meal of butternut squash and spinach orzo, chickpea fritters, carrot daikon and radish salad, roasted honey-nut squash, and ginger molasses cookies for desert.

All of the Log Lunch crew members

Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.