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New solar panels aid sustainability effort

October 10, 2013

The photovoltaic system continues to be installed on the roof of the Regional Development Institute building.
The photovoltaic system continues to be installed on the roof of the Regional Development Institute building. In the foreground, a tracker panel follows sunlight and assists in the creation of electricity. (Desi Danforth/Student Voice)

Construction of the photovoltaic system at the Regional Development Institute (RDI) building on campus continues as part of a campus-wide attempt at sustainability.

“It should be up and running by November,” said Sustainability Coordinator Bethany Gapinski.

Recently, part of the pole mounted dual-axis tracker was installed on the roof of the RDI building. The goal of the photovoltaic system is to provide an estimated 25 percent of the electricity used annually by the RDI building. It is part of the UW-River Falls campus wide sustainability program.

In 2007, the creation of the Sustainability Working Group was created to accomplish tasks of the sustainability goal.

“Our goal is to produce more renewable energy on campus than used,” explained Professor of Geography Charles Rader.

UWRF’s definition of sustainability is “our local and global responsibility to meet the needs of present and future generations, as demonstrated by an integrated set of ecological, social, and economic values, principles, and practices that frame how we think, choose and act in personal, professional and community life,” according to the University website.

The photovoltaic system consists of two types of panels that assist in the total creation of electricity. The fixed panels are scattered throughout the photovoltaic system.  They are responsible for picking up solar energy. The tracker panels are facing the North and track sunlight.

“Being able to produce both in one system is more energy efficient,” said Kelly Cain, a professor of Environmental Science and Management and director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community.

“UWRF is the leading energy efficient campus in the UW System,” Cain said. “We plan to hold onto that.”

Faculty is not the only group involved in the photovoltaic system.

“When the system goes live we will have data to access off monitors in classrooms,” Cain said.

Students will be able to evaluate the data received from the photovoltaic system.

“It’s a good size project for them to get their feet wet,” Cain mentioned.

Students, faculty and stakeholders will get a side-by-side comparison of all the information gathered.

The photovoltaic system is just the beginning of creating sustainable energy on campus.
“We are setting an example that this can be done,” Rader said.

UWRF hopes to install photovoltaic systems on several other buildings that meet their assessment criteria.

Installation of more photovoltaic systems is not the only initiative UWRF is focusing on.

Since 1975, UWRF has continuously monitored energy efficiency and maintained a long history of leadership and commitment on sustainability-based initiatives compared to all campuses in the UW System.

“South Fork Suites incorporates solar hot generators to heat water,” Rader said.  “We want to be more efficient and utilize all of our resources. It is a better investment.”

Rader stressed that sustainability on campus is only accomplished through grants, donations and participation. Students interested in learning more on the photovoltaic system are encouraged to visit the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development website at