The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Student group to start a solar farm on the Memorial Union Building roof

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The roof of the Memorial Union Building at the U of S.

A student-led project at the University of Saskatchewan hopes to install 86 solar panels on the roof of the Memorial Union Building, which houses Louis’ and some of the U of S Students’ Union centres. The project will save the USSU $5,400 per year.

The project Farm the Sun with US began last year, proposed by 28 students in the Environment and Sustainability 401 class. It has now grown to include Kevin Hudson, energy and emissions officer on campus, and Rod Johnson, sessional lecturer in the department of geography and planning. With the solar panels, they will reduce carbon emissions by 26 ton per year and save up to $5,400 per year in electricity costs.

The group recently secured partial funding from the USSU. They hope the union’s involvement will get more U of S students interested in the project. Femi Yusuf, fourth-year environment and society student and Farm the Sun with US member, says that solar energy is a good investment as Saskatchewan has the sunshine capital of Canada.

“Research data that we gathered from SaskPower shows that Saskatchewan actually has the highest solar potential in all of Canada,” Yusuf said. “This means we have more than average solar radiation.”

The University Students’ Council unanimously approved partial funding of the project after Yusuf gave a presentation at the March 21 council meeting. The USSU will finance $1,600 for a structural evaluation necessary to ensure that the roof can hold the panels.

Before the USC voted on approving the funding, Caroline Cottrell, USSU general manager, said the USSU should support the project as the panels will be located on the student-owned building. It is also a statement in support of sustainability.

“If we are capturing the financial value, we should be putting out the financial expenditure,” Cottrell said. “But beyond that, we believe that the student union should be the leaders in sustainability.”

The rest of the project is estimated to cost $100,000, but SaskPower may provide a rebate of $20,000. Te panels will be functional in a year or two and will have an estimated life of 25 to 30 years.

Farm the Sun with US expects the project to have an impact on the University’s Sustainability Tracking and Assessment Rating System. Currently the rating at the U of S is silver, with their goal of reducing carbon emissions up to 20 per cent by 2020 still far from being achieved. Zach Person, first-year environment and sustainability masters student and Farm the Sun with US member, says the students involved in the project also hope to create an interest in their peers to encourage growth in sustainability.

“What we hope to happen with the project is that we’ll find younger undergraduate students that are interested to come on, and the older students that are working on the project will mentor them,” Person said. “It will be a continuous cycle creating sustainability of the project itself as well as creating sustainability on campus.”

This is not the first project of this nature at the university. There are five other solar panel installations on campus, but none are set in a visible location. Person says that what makes the MUB project different is that it involves students.

“We are trying to get this project here because it’s very centered,” Person said. “You drive by it on the bus, you walk by it going to class, and we want students to see that green actions are being made on campus.”

Yusuf says that one of the objectives of the project is to get students involved to spread knowledge and create awareness.

“It takes 28 students to put solar panels on the roof. I think about what 300 students could do. We hope to get more student engagement. We are trying to get everyone involved,” Yusuf said. “This is our university. It’s the students’ university, our choice, and we want our voices to be heard.”

Nathalie Baquerizo

Photo: Google Earth / Creative Commons

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