Twelve rows of gleaming black silicon sheets line the roof of Ackerman Student Union, absorbing the sun’s rays into the building’s humming electrical system.
The panels are a result of a two-and-a-half year student-led project that culminated last week when they officially began their operation.
Spearheaded by UCLA alumni Kennan Cronen and Ian Wells, the solar panel project consists of 132 solar panels, said Roy Champawat, the director of the UCLA student union. The panels are expected to generate enough energy to power about 20 homes for one year, according to a UCLA press release.
Ackerman Union was chosen to house the solar panels because of its large size and constant use, which will ensure that none of the generated power from the panels will go to waste, he said.
The project is estimated to have cost about $176,000 and is being covered by the Green Initiative Fund, which collects a $4 quarterly student fee from the undergraduate student body to pay for student-led sustainabile programs, Champawat said.
The new panels will contribute to UCLA’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Nurit Katz, UCLA’s sustainability coordinator. In 2006, the University of California put in place a series of policies to push campuses to be more sustainable and in turn to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, according to the University’s website.
Ninety percent of UCLA’s energy and 70 percent of its electricity comes from the cogeneration plant on campus, but any other energy must be bought from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Katz said.
The new panels will power about 2.5 percent of the facility, Champawat said
While the amount of power the panels generate may seem little, Katz said the change is not inconsequential.
“We’ve done a lot to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, so to get that last bit, every little bit helps,” she said. “We need everyone to work together.”
Cronen and Wells, who founded the student organization BGreen Consulting before they graduated UCLA in 2011, came up with the project idea in 2009, Cronen said.
The duo wanted to create something that would help improve UCLA’s ability to work outside the grid and to move away from unsustainable power.
Using funds from the Green Initiative Fund, the pair set to work to create something that would help reduce UCLA’s reliance on unsustainable energy sources.
Once they decided to focus their project on solar panels, Cronen and Wells began researching and calling contractors to understand the logistics of the project, Cronen said.
After the project was approved, the students continued to work with facilities maintenance and ASUCLA as they worked to install the new panels.
Both Cronen and Wells attended bimonthly meetings with facilities maintenance workers, said Patty Zimmerman, grant coordinator for the Green Initiative Fund. The two students were a part of the entire process, she added.
Wells could not be reached for comment, as he is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer abroad.
“There were so many meetings, so much work and so many times it could have not worked out,” Cronen said.
“Having it happen is really gratifying.”
Cronen plans to attend the panels’ grand opening celebration scheduled for next week.
UCLA currently does not have plans to add more solar panels to Ackerman Union, though it is still a possibility, Champawat said.