New solar panel blooms at Connecticut College
New London — A different type of flower bloomed on Connecticut College’s campus Friday morning when the college installed a SmartFlower solar unit in front of Horizon House, bolstering its efforts to achieve greater sustainability.
A boom lift, electric panels and large equipment filled the front lawn of Horizon House, the college’s admissions office, as an assembly crew pieced together the parts of the 16-foot solar unit.
The unit’s unique design resembling a blooming flower provides aesthetic appeal, and its rotating “petals” that follow the sun enable the panel to collect sunlight.
“As the sun moves across the sky, it follows the sun. Whereas (with) the regular solar panel you basically just sort of face south because that's where you're gonna get the most (sunlight), this will actually capture more,” said Margaret Bounds, the college’s director of sustainability.
A group of college faculty and staff, including Interim President Les Wong, stood watching the construction. Students took in at the site as they walked to their morning classes.
The solar unit will power up to 50% of the electricity needs of the nearby Woodworth House, an administrative building housing the East Asian Studies department, according to Bounds.
The SmartFlower can produce up to 6,500 kilowatts per year, more than half the yearly usage of the average American home, according to Pineapple Energy, a solar installation company. The panel’s parts and installation cost the college $35,000.
The project was introduced by Avatar Simpson while he was a student at Conn. Simpson, who graduated in 2020, proposed the SmartFlower units to the Office of Sustainability. After approval was granted from them, he requested funds from the Student Government Association to construct it.
The Office of Sustainability is one of the largest student-engaged programs on campus. With a mix 30 paid and unpaid students, the office’s efforts include food waste reduction, recycling and rewarding the most sustainable dorms on campus.
Bounds said the college’s plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 becomes more attainable due to initiatives like the SmartFlower.
The college plans to expand its solar unit capacity further in the next two years.
“We're also planning right now for a ground-mounted solar array at the south end of campus that will produce electricity equivalent to about 7% of our campus usage,” she said.
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