Campus Currents

Solar Solution
An earth-friendly system will help heat Kingsbury Hall.

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UNH Lunacats
Perry Smith/UNH Photographic Services
Sunny-Side Up: Campus energy manager Matt O'Keefe '97 stands in front of the new solar panels on the roof of Kingsbury Hall.

It's just the latest bright idea to come out of Kingsbury Hall—a rooftop passive-solar heating system that will save the university $10,000 to $15,000 a year. Installed last spring, the 2,600 square feet of paneling on the south-facing wall of the building's mechanical-equipment penthouse will preheat fresh air that gets drawn into the laboratories in that wing, keeping the space warm and comfortable. Because of the continuous ventilation needed to maintain healthful air quality, these labs in the past have been among the university's most notorious energy hogs.

The translucent, perforated plastic panels are mounted on aluminum columns attached to the existing wall, which is covered by a dark, feltlike material that absorbs solar radiation. Air pulled by ventilation fans through the perforations is heated by the panels and the solar collector. The only moving part is a damper that prevents hot air from entering the building on warm days, making the system nearly maintenance-free.

Paid for with a grant from the state's Public Utilities Commission and money from the university's revolving energy efficiency fund, the $130,000 project drew on savings from an air-quality monitoring system installed in the labs in 2010. University energy manager Matt O'Keefe '97 expects this system to pay for itself in 10 years or less. And already UNH's rooftop lab is providing outreach and education—over the summer, a group of energy efficiency managers from New Hampshire's state agencies headed to the roof to see the solar solution for themselves.

If the siding performs as expected, O'Keefe hopes it will be used in other new construction and building renovations on campus. Not only is the solar material less expensive than conventional siding, but the panels can be tinted a variety of colors, helping with architecture and design dilemmas. "One of our biggest fears was that our campus architect would have some objection to the look and feel of this technology," says O'Keefe, noting that the Kingsbury siding, while not visible from the ground, can be seen from a dorm across the street. But the project got "a glowing review."

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