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Making a Visual Change for Sustainability

Miranda Corbett
Solar panels were installed on the roof of the Wilson House this summer.

Sofia Tagkaloglou is part of a student group that was inspired during an Environmental Studies course to try bringing solar energy to the Knox College campus. The project began in winter 2015 and was fully realized this summer.

Tagkaloglou said she spent two years working with administration on the project.

“It really taught me that making change isn’t a linear process where you present evidence and then you get what you want,” she said.

During the planning stages, the group decided to install the panels on the Wilson House, a space commonly used for classes and club meetings. Its central location on campus was a selling point. Tagkaloglou said she likes that students will notice the panels while just going about their everyday activities.

The energy produced by the solar panel array will make Wilson House nearly “net neutral.” That means it will be producing almost as much energy as it needs to support its electricity use. Tagkaloglou said the student group liked the idea of having a self-sustaining building on campus.

She also thinks it’s important that students both initiated the project and paid for it. The Student Senate agreed to spend more than $40,000 on the project. The money comes from the Student Sustainability Fund, which is supported by tuition revenue.

Knox College has been investing in renewable energy for several years through a Renewable Energy Credits program, according to Deborah Steinberg, Director of Sustainability Initiatives at Knox. The electricity used on campus comes from off-site renewable sources, but Steinberg said the best form of renewable energy is onsite.

Steinberg hoped the solar panels will provide a visual reminder of the campus’s commitment to renewable energy.

“Sometimes energy work and sustainability is something that we can’t really see, but it’s really important. By having that place where anybody walking by can see what’s happening in that building, we can really capitalize on that and use it to educate people,” Steinberg said.

She said the college’s administration considers the solar installation to be a pilot project. She said if it’s successful, Knox might invest in larger solar arrays.