College will install rooftop solar system by December 2018


Max Goldberg / Clarion

The Solar panels at Epic Systems offer one of the largest arrays in Wisconsin. Madison College is adding a rooftop solar system that will be the largest in Wisconsin.

Jessica Deegan, News Editor

By December of 2018, Madison College will have Wisconsin’s largest rooftop solar system operating on its Truax campus. The total project will cost about $3.8 million, but will save the school about $200,000 per year. The project will also help Madison College reduce its carbon footprint, and become an even more environmentally friendly space.

The solar system will produce about 10 percent of the total electrical energy the school consumes in a given school year. Based on an estimated value of $0.12/kilowatt hour, this equals out to a savings of around $200,000 per year said Ken Walz, Madison College faculty member and director of the Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education. 

“Conservatively speaking, the college should see a payback on its investment in roughly 8-10 years.  Meanwhile, the solar system itself should last about 25-30 years,” Walz said. Overall Madison college will greatly benefit from this solar system for the next 3 decades. The system will produce around 1.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. To put this in perspective, the average home in Madison, uses about 8,000 kilowatt hours per year, so the college’s system will produce enough electricity to power about 210 homes.

“Although…the solar electrical technology is capable of feeding energy back into the electrical grid that could be consumed by other customers, this is unlikely to happen with the system at Madison College. The amount of electricity consumed by the college is very large. On a bright sunny day, the peak output of the solar system will only amount to about half of the college’s total electrical load,” said Walz. Therefore, the building will still be buying some electricity from Madison Gas and Electric (MGE).

A team of engineers, finance, and legal workers from MGE is working alongside, and helping to assist the Madison College group working on the project. MGE has also partially funded this project by presenting Madison College with an MGE grant.

Even though the total cost equals $3.8 million, the solar system will only cost around $2.3 million. The other $1.5 million, roughly one third of the $3.8 million, is the cost to replace the roof before the solar system itself is installed. The roof replacement will occur in the early summer of 2018, and the solar system will follow. According to the grant with MGE, the solar system must be completely operational by December 2018.

Madison College has been working with renewable energy and solar electricity since the early 2000s. Five years ago, the college operated some smaller solar electric systems at the Truax campus until they were demolished in a windstorm. Madison College also operates six solar electric systems at the Commercial Avenue campus. These are used for teaching students about solar technology, and the tools and skills needed to install a solar system, explained Walz.

Madison College was one of the first in the nation to offer coursework in renewable energy technology, and is regarded as a national leader in this area. Over 500 students have taken renewable energy coursework at the college, and over 60 have earned academic certificates in this field.

For many years, Madison College has been committed to clean energy. In 2007, the college became a participant in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, and developed a comprehensive plan for managing the college’s energy consumption and reducing the college’s carbon footprint. The school’s rooftop solar system is the latest project geared towards meeting this goal.

The rooftop solar system is only one of many projects that are part of the college’s green energy portfolio. The College also operates a geothermal heating and cooling system for the Protective Services building, and a 100 kilowatt hour wind turbine at the Fort Atkinson Campus. Two more wind turbines were also recently donated to the college. These will be installed at the Commercial Avenue and Columbus campuses in the upcoming year.

The money that will be saved during this development will be used for future energy projects. Walz explained that new electrical loads are always being added to the college. For example, new computers and other technology hardware will be developed, new building spaces and teaching laboratories will be equipped, and in general as things become more automated, more electricity will be consumed.  In order to manage the college’s electric costs and keep them under control, it is always necessary for the school to be looking for additional energy savings projects, such as this one. By moving in this direction and installing renewable energy systems on their campuses, Madison College is doing their part to make the planet a healthier place.