GU townhouse solar panel project to move forward

November 3, 2011

The student group Georgetown Energy is currently working on an effort to place solar panels on a selection of University townhouses, a project which would be the largest student-funded solar project in the world if it is completed the way it was envisioned, the group’s cofounder and CEO David Nulsen (SFS ‘12) said.

The leaders of Georgetown Energy are meeting with members of the Georgetown administration today to discuss final details of the project, including whether to put panels on all townhouses at once or to start with a pilot program. They believe that the administration will approve the program, although they will not know for sure until after the meeting.

The group is “nearing the completion of the working group and contract negotiations with a chosen solar vendor before a referendum in early December.” Nulsen wrote in a follow-up email. “The referendum will give students the opportunity to formally release the money to the solar project.”

In order for the student referendum to pass, at least 2,000 students must vote in favor of the project.

“When [co-founder] Anthony [Conyers] and I walked by the ICC, we asked, ‘What’s the deal with those panels?’ We found out the 25-year-old panels operated at less than 33 percent productivity,” Peter Nulsen (SFS ‘12) said. “We saw the energy IQ of our classmates as a huge area for growth. So we decided let’s do some research and find a way we can help Georgetown morph into a green university.”

When the group learned of the $3.4 million of Student Activities Fee Endowment available for student projects they decided to pursue a portion of the money in order to fund their initiative. They proposed building solar panels on 43 townhouse roofs at a cost of $163,399. Last March, the group learned that they had been selected as one of two finalists to receive funding.

Colton Malkerson (COL ‘13), a member of the GUSA FinApp Committee who was involved in choosing the solar panel project, said that Georgetown Energy submitted “a very thorough proposal. [There were] no financial or other concerns with the proposal.”

According to Peter Nulsen, the panels will have paid for themselves in 11 years.

“Solar energy is projected to generate enough to cover 30 percent of the house’s electric bills,” he said. “The energy savings are then directed right back to the student body, through a fund operated by students, for students. At our current estimates, students will earn a minimum of $1,000 in the first month and each month thereafter for 20 years.”

By year 2020, the group projects that the solar panels will have earned the University $234,000, all of which will be put into the GUSA fund to be used on more projects to benefit students.

The project leaders see this as more than just an opportunity to make Georgetown greener. They also believe that it will be something that can be utilized in many different disciplines that students study. For example, science students can learn the mechanics behind the panels, or School of Foreign Studies students can make comparisons to application of solar energy in China.

“I think how we use energy, and how we use our natural resources will be one of the largest challenges our generation will face,” Peter Nulsen said. “Solar panels on University townhouses is one tangible step into our energy future.”

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