A group of Purdue students and faculty are pursuing a noble cause: introducing a solar
array to the University’s campus.
Sam Landry, a graduate student in engineering technology, is leading an energy initiative
on campus with the help of William Hutzel, a professor in the school of engineering
technology. The project – dubbed the Purdue Solar Endowment – is about cutting the
University’s total energy cost by placing solar panels at the Purdue Airport, similar to what
has been done at the Indianapolis International Airport.
The idea of the project is based around a natural syncing of the University’s energy usage
and the sun.
“The reasoning behind this is that universities are most active during the middle of the
day, which matches up with the intensity of the sunlight, thus creating solar energy at
times when we are consuming the most energy,” Landry said.
Landry and Hutzel first paired up for a project in Landry’s undergraduate days when they
were part of a project to build a house which produced more solar energy than it used.
Since the building of the solar-powered house, the price of solar power has decreased by
almost 50 percent. Hutzel said where solar panels used to be $4 per watt, they are now just
above $2 per watt. So this fact will be a huge boost to the group’s case when the Purdue
Solar Endowment makes its request for funds to the Office of Investments.
Now, instead of dealing with a few solar panels like they did with the house, the Purdue
Solar Endowment will require the installation of a few thousand panels.
Landry believes the group will be successful in their bid to not only obtain the proper
funding, but to also one day get the solar array up and running at the Purdue Airport.
“The project will ultimately answer whether large scale solar investment is a possibility for
the university or not, and if not, when does it become a possibility. I would say that I am
about 100 percent confident that we will get what we want out of this project,” Landry
said. “We are in the very early stages of this project and there is still a lot to discover and a
lot of moving targets. With this in mind, I know how motivated everyone involved is and
that gives me a great deal of confidence that this may just become a reality.”
As key of a role as Hutzel plays, the Purdue Solar Endowment is student-driven.
“Professor Hutzel pulls our individual efforts together in the context of the whole project
and puts us in contact with the stakeholders involved in the project’s progression,” Landry
said. “That being said, we have had students who work specifically on analyzing the
finances, site selection, engineering, case studies and market projections. Having access to
a multidisciplinary team allows us look at each step in this project with great insight.”
However, despite the fact that the group aims to cut Purdue’s energy requirement by a full
2 percent, Hutzel knows that solar energy isn’t the key to all energy problems.
Hutzel said, “I don’t want to give you the wrong idea: Solar panels are not the cure for
energy concerns worldwide, but it’s one smart strategy that we’re going to see more of.”