Harvard Business School installs solar panels on fitness center roof

BOSTON, Dec. 1, 2003 — Harvard Business School (HBS) recently installed solar “photovoltaic” panels on the roof of its fitness center, Shad Hall, as part of its ongoing commitment to conserve energy and use natural resources whenever possible.

The renewable energy project is a first for Harvard University and, at 36 kilowatts, the second-largest installation of its kind in the Boston area. On a sunny day, the 192 photovoltaic panels on top of Shad convert sunlight into enough electricity to power twenty to thirty homes.

In addition to reducing HBS’s energy bill over the next quarter century, the photovoltaic project will supplant the emission of about 75,000 pounds of carbon monoxide annually – the equivalent of about 220 fewer cars on the road each year.

The photovoltaic project suggested by two MBA students, Daniel Cook (HBS ’04) and Brian D. Robertson (HBS ’04), co-presidents of the Sustainable Development Society, a student club. With the support of Frank Hayes, chief of operations at HBS, and James Brochu, assistant director of facilities operations and electrical systems at the School, the students put together a plan last spring to finance solar panels for Shad.

The fitness center was a logical choice for the photovoltaic project, Brochu said, because the 130,000-square-foot building was already the focus of several energy-saving programs and had a large flat roof for the solar panels. (Another project in the works is a co-generation unit, which will use trapped waste heat to warm the fitness center’s showers, steam rooms, and whirlpools.) “We have been working to turn Shad into a true green-friendly building,” he continued. “Thanks to Dan Cook and Brian Robertson, our efforts have been kicked into high gear.”

Cook, a graduate of Fairfield University who became interested in alternative energy while serving as a Fulbright Fellow in Chile, and Robertson, an MIT graduate who has explored such emerging technologies as energy harvesting in addition to starting several companies, said that they drew on their first-year courses in putting together the project.

“The skills we learned in our negotiation classes, as well as those we gained from finance and marketing, were immediately honed on this project,” said Cook.

Robertson added: “We used the bids from nine different solar panel companies to determine technical specifications and a budget, since we had no idea how much the project would cost.”

The total tab for the photovoltaic project, which was designed and installed by Global Resource Options of Stafford, Vermont, was $365,300. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), a state development agency for renewable energy, provided a grant for $143,500, while the rest came in the form of an interest-free loan from the Harvard University Green Campus Initiative (HGCI).

“One of the things that drew us to the Harvard project was that it had strong education and public outreach components,” said Mitchell L. Adams, MBA ’69, the executive director of MTC. The project also had the potential to raise awareness about the advantages of solar energy over fossil fuels, he added.

Leith J. Sharp, director of HGCI, is pleased with how her organization’s loan to HBS is being used. “The photovoltaic project at Harvard Business School is one of our most strategically important projects,” she says, “because renewable energy promises to play an increasingly important role in Harvard University’s future.”

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