Morrison Residence Hall may have won an Environmental Protection Agency national award for energy reduction last year, but the building’s environmentally friendly upgrades did not live up to initial expectations.

Hot water producing solar panels were added to the residence hall in 2006. The student-run renewable energy special projects committee contributed $185,600 and the N.C. Energy Office contributed $137,000 toward the project, said Assistant Director of Facilities Steve Lofgren.

During an annual tour of the rooftop solar panels held Saturday, Lofgren said green upgrades to the building were not straightforward.

The project designer was not well equipped to plan the unusually large installation and the company that sold the panels would not provide input, Lofgren said.

This led to a system with less than optimal hot water output.

“They thought they knew what they were doing but they didn’t completely,” Lofgren said. “The university had to step up.”

Even though facility service workers weren’t trained to deal with the system, engineers worked hard to become more knowledgeable and to make improvements, he said.

The solar system – originally intended to provide hot water to faucets, showers and washers  – was tied to the building’s heating and cooling system by university engineers.

This regularly decreases the amount of steam the university’s cogeneration power plant needs to provide to the residence hall.

The 172 rooftop solar panels now provide an average of 40 percent of the building’s hot water usage, according to a UNC-CH sustainability office press release.

In September, the system reduced carbon dioxide output by 15,201 pounds, according to a document from the department of Housing and Residential Education. This is about the same amount of carbon dioxide that comes from burning 760 gallons of gasoline.

“We didn’t get it right out of the gate,” Lofgren said. “It’s a learning institution and it caused the institution to do some learning, and that’s always a good thing.”

To go beyond the rooftop panels in advancing Morrison Residence Hall’s sustainability mission, building leaders are competing in the Residential Green Games this year, Morrison Community Director Taris Mullins said.

The Residential Green Games is an environmental competition that seeks to promote sustainable behavioral change and education in UNC-CH residence halls.

“Morrison Community is not leading Green Games, we are doing quite well so far this year,” Mullins said. “We encourage sustainability in a number of ways through bulletin boards, encouraging residents to bring their own items to programs, and also looking for creative ways to reduce our footprint in the community.”

Luz Cuaboy, a Morrison resident who attended the tour, said she appreciated the green focus of the building even though the expense of the hot water producing solar panels surprised her.

“I think the cost is justified,” Cuaboy said “Over a long period of time, it’s going to do some good.”

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