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Grant funds solar power project on and off campus

Image courtesy of SOHO/EIT consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.
Image courtesy of SOHO/EIT consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

Forty solar energy installations will spring up on the MIT campus--as well as on the homes of participating MIT faculty and staff--thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust.

Grants totaling $2.6 million announced Oct. 10 are part of the trust's $10 million Solar-to-Market Initiative, among the largest public investments in the solar photovoltaic industry in New England. The project's goal is to reduce costs of solar systems by increasing the efficiency of electricity distribution and providing valuable feedback to designers and manufacturers. The trust's money came from a portion of Massachusetts electric bills collected over the last several years.

The MIT Community Solar Power Initiative received $455,700 for 40 solar installations on campus as well as on schools, homes and businesses in Cambridge, Watertown, Arlington, Lexington and Waltham. The initiative reflects Institute support for renewable energy research and uses MIT's own buildings and personnel to test the feasibility, effectiveness and consumer acceptance of photovoltaic power generation.

Edward Kern, a research engineer in the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE), and Laxmi Rao, a senior project manager in the Department of Facilities' Utilities Group, will direct the project. Peter Cooper, director of utilities, will arrange for providing additional MIT expertise, personnel and access to Institute facilities.

Private-sector partners in the initiative include Evergreen Solar, the state's fastest-growing photovoltaic manufacturer, and the Conservation Services Group, which develops markets nationally for environmentally conscious electric power.

MIT will finance solar installations on campus buildings. Installations on homes of faculty and staff members will be subsidized by the grant in the same proportion as campus installations. Evergreen Solar will provide complete system packages to MIT for all installations; the Institute will make these available to individual participants at significantly reduced cost.

The Conservation Services Group will handle transactions for MIT among other project participants, including MIT faculty and staff. Participant who wish to sell renewable-energy credits generated by their systems, called "green tags," also can do this through the Conservation Services Group.

The grant requires that MIT's solar-cell installations be clustered in an area that doesn't overlap with that of other grant awardees. MIT was assigned the Route 2 corridor from Cambridge to Lexington, as a concentration of MIT's faculty and staff live along this corridor.

The MIT Community Solar Power Initiative has several educational objectives. Students will become aware of the potential of solar power. Towns will integrate this power source into their conventional systems, and gain experience in the performance of the technology. Additionally, Cambridge high school and middle school teachers are designing projects for their students based on their experience in a four-week summer 2002 program on environmental issues.

Much of the project's success will depend on finding the most efficient and cost-effective sites for the solar panels. Orientation and potential shading of the panels, the cost of support structures to hold them in place, the cost of wiring, and aesthetics are all factors that must be weighed.

A team of two UROP students is developing a photovoltaic "Rover" unit to find the best places on campus to install solar panels. The Rover units will be equipped with sensors that will record conditions at trial locations and transmit the data over the MIT wireless network for display on the web. The UROP project is a partnership among the LFEE, Facilities and the Edgerton Center.

Each panel in a system measures approximately 2 feet by 5 feet, contains 72 solar cells and will produce 100-150 kWh of electricity per year, equal to about a week's demand for a typical home. Each location will have 12 to 24 panels in a modular configuration that works best for the building.

Facilities and the LFEE will sponsor an IAP seminar series to explain the program to potential participants. Installations of the photovoltaic systems will begin in the spring. Anyone with further questions may contact Rao at 253-6821 or

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