When aspiring doctor and chemistry major Evan Rosenberg ’14 isn’t busy in the classroom, he is atop the Washington & Jefferson College facility services building collecting data from the 18 solar panels at the Swanson Solar Laboratory.
Led by assistant physics professor Michael McCracken '04, Rosenberg and his classmates are using the solar panels to test the ecological and economic cost-benefits of small-scale solar power in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The students have the ability to test various scenarios with the panels. For example, the students are testing how shading affects the panels' ability to gather energy. To do so, they placed masking tape on each of the panels. While keeping the length of the tape consistent, they changed the pattern of the tape on each panel. Currently, they are collecting data from each panel to see the impact of the masking tape patterns.
Despite his busy schedule, getting involved with a project like this was an easy decision for Rosenberg. "I have always had an interest in renewable energy sources," he said. "So, when the opportunity to be involved in a hands-on program that directly affects the future of W&J and its energy usage was presented to me, I needed to be a part of it."
Since installation in July 2012, the panels have produced enough energy to power 90 houses for one day and have a carbon offset of 1.87 tons, the equivalent of 48 trees. Rosenberg said he and the other students working with the panels hope to plant trees in the Washington community to represent the trees saved since the solar panels were installed.
In addition to the solar panels, the W&J community has made many efforts in becoming a more sustainable living and learning community. The Swanson Science Center, which opened in 2010, is a gold-level certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building.
The W&J food provider, Parkhurst Dining Services, has collaborated with the College on many initiatives, including the installation of a new dish rinser that saves 700,000 gallons of water per year.
Residents of the W&J Sustainable Living theme house and members of the student organization called Green Club have conducted many outreach and service activities, including developing a composting program for some of the College's dining waste; facilitating recycling of electronics, printer cartridges and books; and raising awareness of local sustainability.