2007
Network box broadcasts energy produced by Birck Hall solar panel

Network box broadcasts energy produced by Birck Hall solar panel
September 26, 2007

Phil Brozynski, Media Relations Manager
(630) 829-6094
pbrozynski@ben.edu

Three years ago, Benedictine University received a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Commonwealth Edison, the Foundation for Environmental Education and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to install a 5 feet by 15 feet solar panel next to the Michael and Kay Birck Hall of Science. The system provides only a modest amount of electricity, but it signalled the University’s commitment toward exploring more environmentally friendly ways to meet the nation’s energy needs. The Illinois Clean Energy Foundation recently provided funds to install a network box on the unit. The box broadcasts the amount of energy being produced by the panel. The Foundation hopes to monitor all the energy being produced by the solar panels it has funded to monitor the effect of its investment. “Now we have a way to view the output of the panel any time we want,” said John Mickus, Ph.D., professor of Biology at Benedictine University. Benedictine University pursued the initial grant to use the solar panel to teach the concepts of renewable energy in some of its general physics courses, and as part of its science education program so that teachers could learn about renewable energy. “Many elementary schools and some high schools in DuPage County have also had similar panels installed,” Mickus said. Compared to depletable energy sources such as coal, oil and nuclear, solar energy offers a clean renewable form of energy. Solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity (photovoltaic system) through the use of semiconductors such as silicon. When sunlight strikes these semiconductors, the solar energy knocks electrons loose from their atoms allowing the electrons to flow through the material to produce electricity. However, many obstacles remain to widespread use of solar energy. While a 5 kilowatt system employing a 17-by-17 solar panel can meet all the needs of a typical American home, the cost of the panel, the hardware needed to convert the electricity generated by the panel into useful power and installation can cost more than $30,000. The photovoltaic system at Benedictine University is a 1 kilowatt unit that barely keeps a light and fan running in the Birck Hall greenhouse. “The unit does produce energy even when it’s dark by absorbing light from stars, but it’s just a trickle,” Mickus said. Even staunch supporters of renewable energy recognize that more research and development is necessary before coal, oil and nuclear power can be replaced as primary sources of energy. “Currently, solar panels are between 12.5 and 15 percent efficient,” Mickus said. “Once we improve on that and make solar energy more cost effective, we can start replacing fossil fuels as an energy source. And if we can replace fossil fuels, we should be able to replace nuclear energy. “I think we have an obligation to invest in the use of renewable energy,” Mickus added. The output of the solar panel at Benedictine University can be viewed at the following link: http://view2.fatspaniel.net/Sunair/benedictine/AdminView.html.

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 56 undergraduate majors, 16 graduate and four doctorate programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Benedictine University as the seventh fastest-growing campus among private nonprofit master’s universities, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fourth largest in the Chicago area in 2011.