ST. PETERSBURG — Duke Energy has awarded a $500,000 grant to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg for a solar array that will not only produce energy but help students and researchers study solar power.
“This grant will allow us to install solar panels on the roof of the parking garage, ultimately bringing the facility to net-zero energy,” Sophia Wisniewska, regional chancellor, told USF trustees at a meeting last week.
The 100-kilowatt array will be installed atop the garage between 5th and 6th Aves. S, across from the University Student Center in a carport-style setting that will still allow the top floor to be used for parking.
“It certainly is a project that both Duke Energy and USF St. Petersburg can feel good about,” said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the utility. “We’re happy to partner with them.”
A similar 100kw array at St. Petersburg College is expected to save that school about $20,000 a year on its electric bill.
USF St. Petersburg is the fourth school to receive a SunSense grant from Duke, which acquired St. Petersburg-based Progress Energy in 2012. The University of Central Florida, USF’s Tampa campus and SPC also have SunSense arrays.
After losing out on the award for several years, USF St. Petersburg set out to fulfill the specific qualifications Duke was seeking, including a full-time sustainability coordinator; installation of an energy dashboard, or online system that would allow anyone to monitor energy use at major buildings; and indications that there would be an educational role and student engagement in the process.
Jennifer Winter has since been named sustainability coordinator and the campus has worked out details of the dashboard. The campus’ application featured letters of intent from at least 10 professors, including two from the engineering school in Tampa, who stated they and their students would be involved with the St. Petersburg project.
“We had probably three months’ worth of meetings on what needed to happen, what needed to change, and who needed to be committed to what,” said Daniel McGarigal, a senior in interdisciplinary social science who also serves as director of the campus’ sustainable initiatives department and chairs the student government’s clean energy resource conservation commission.
Affiliated with the Duke grant will be a project on solar power storage.
“That’s one of the key issues in our industry right now,” said Ivey. “Everybody likes solar, but the big missing link right now is how to store the solar energy and export it to the electrical grid so that we can use it any time of the day or night, not only when the sun is shining best between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.”
Ivey said the USF St. Petersburg panel will be the largest Duke solar array in the city, although there are larger ones in the private sector.
McGarigal said he and his fellow students want to show that environmental action such as the use of solar power is financially smart.
“It’s extremely exciting to work on something that is not going to just benefit me, but impact the university for a long time,” he said.