Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Brittany Worthington Contributor
Tyler Benmark ’13 is using his Senior Individualized Project to make the Kalamazoo College campus more energy efficient.
Along with a business SIP studying the depletion of fossil fuels in the next fifty years, Benmark decided to add another component to his project: a solar array consisting of four one-kilowatt solar panels.
While completing his Integrative Cultural Research Project in Strasbourg, France, Benmark became interested in solar energy. After returning to the United States last spring, he sought advice from economics professor Hannah McKinney who redirected him to Paul Manstrom, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management (Fac Man). Manstrom offered his support, helping Benmark to receive special funding for the solar array through Facilities Management.
The panels are expected to be installed either late third week or early fourth week. Benmark explained that each individual panel, which will be installed on the roof of the Fac Man building, produces its own Air Conditioning output for the building’s interior. This makes the system easy to expand upon and maintain, should one panel fail.
Benmark contracted Solar Winds Power Systems to do the installation. He credited Mike Linsea, owner and project manager of Solar Winds, for his tremendous help and commitment to Benmark’s vision.
This is not the first time solar panels have been sought as an energy option on K’s campus. During the renovations of the Upjohn Library and the Weimer K. Hicks Student Center, some students and staff advocated for solar panels to be part of the building’s refurbishment. However, the financial cost seemed to outweigh the environmental benefits. Benmark conceded to the expense of solar panels, noting that the decision of any administration or organization to incorporate alternative energy sources is often determined by money.
“In the end, it comes down to economics,” Benmark said.
But Benmark encourages students to come out to see the solar array once it is up and working. “It’s a huge mystery where our energy comes from, and I think it’s astonishing for people to see it right there, turning it into electricity then turning it into AC,” he said.
Benmark hopes that his alternative energy initiative won’t be the last seen on K’s campus.
“I’d love to see another student try to add onto it or do wind or some other alternative energy [project],” he said. “I mean, we’re Kalamazoo College, and the fact that we don’t have more alternative energy sources is kind of sad.”
As a possible opportunity to educate the campus community on different alternative energy sources and projects, Benmark looks to the new senior seminar requirement to be introduced into the Kalamazoo College curriculum. He hopes that perhaps one seminar may be focused on fossil fuel alternatives.
“I think it would be great to have some sort of alternative energy class because I think this should be general knowledge. A really cool project for that would be for every class to add a solar panel each year or help maintain them.”