On campus

Tech Encourages Sustainability With On-Campus Energy

Tech has solar panels set up outside Clement Hall with outlets. Photo by August Creter.

With solar panels being noticed around Tech’s campus and the importance of sustainability being stressed by many, questions are being raised about where Tech’s energy derives from. 

Ten years ago, Tech made the decision to stop burning coal for an energy source and convert to more efficient and reliable means. Tech refers to their energy source as steam powered. “Steam on campus to heat the buildings used to come from a coal burner next to Spankies, but it has been converted to natural gas some years ago,” Research and Development engineer Robert Craven said. 

Steam and natural gas is just one of the many sources of energy Tech utilizes. “Currently, our campus has multiple energy sources and can operate as ‘microgrid.’ Meaning that when connected to the city power grid, it gets its power mainly from the grid; but during electric faults or extreme events, it can disconnect itself from the source of fault and power its own campus critical loads for a specific time duration,” Center for Energy Systems Research (CESR) Research assistant professor Dr. Ali Arzani said. 

 Not only do the solar panels partially sustain Tech’s campus, they are also utilized by members of the CESR for educational purposes and advancements in research pertaining to energy systems, electric power and infrastructure. 

According to the CESR page, the organization’s main objectives are to: “provide solutions to problems faced by energy producers and consumers, to expand opportunities for advanced training in these fields to Tennessee students, and to provide trained manpower to solve present and future problems of the energy industry.”

Funded by the state of Tennessee, research grants, various agencies and the private sector, the CESR identifies and fills the needs of the electric power industry while solving anticipated and current issues on campus, paying special attention to the needs of the electric power industry. 

The solar “tree” located outside of Clement Hall is one of CESR’s solar research initiatives. “It isn’t very big, but it serves two purposes.  It puts a bit of electricity into Tech’s grid – slows the big campus electric meter a tiny bit – or it can also be connected to the scale model power grid in CLEM103 for researchers to use,” Craven said. 

This interdisciplinary center was created to drive scientific advancements and build engineering knowledge of electric power. The center supports Tech students in academic fields associated with energy systems and can answer any additional questions pertaining to energy sources on campus.