Just in Time for the Winter Solstice, North Campus Solar Panels Energize

Campus Sustainability Office, Student Intern April 12, 2023
Solar panels on Day Hall
Cornell adds more solar power to North Campus.

On December 20, Cornell energized phase II of its North Campus solar project, and solar panels now generate sustainable energy on three more of the North Campus expansions’ roofs. The solar arrays add 725 kW of solar power to the total 1 MW project. The panels on Barbara McClintock Hall, Hu Shih Hall, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall now generate solar energy to help power the campus sustainably. 

Completed in Fall 2022, the North Campus Residential Expansion included solar arrays on all the new residential buildings, marking the largest rooftop solar panel installation at Cornell. In compliance with Cornell’s new building design and construction standards, every new building project must be solar-ready even if the panels themselves aren’t installed until later. 

The solar panels activated the day before the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Solar activation connects the solar power to the grid and allows the panels to produce power for Cornell buildings. However, even with minimal sunlight, a Cornell study found that the campus generates 100% renewable energy on sunny afternoons, even in winter. As of the writing of this story, the solar panels have powered the campus for more than 260 full-sun afternoons.

Although many of the older buildings’ roofs cannot support solar panel installation, Cornell’s new standards require new building designs to account for potential solar panels. The solar panels may be installed later, but new roofs can withstand the sustainable energy generators.

Cornell aspires to operate on the Quadruple Bottom Line sustainability framework. For every project, teams consider how they are meeting the needs of the people, enhancing prosperity in the area, supporting a sustainable planet, and fulfilling Cornell’s academic purpose. These panels, while not the solution in and of themselves to reaching campus carbon neutrality, push these motivations by creating more sustainable energy.

The new panels also put sustainability at the forefront of student life, especially for freshmen and transfer students living on campus. These panels physically remind students of Cornell’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and encourage students to get involved with those goals.

GreenSpark Solar provided the engineering, procurement, and construction services for the project. Kendall Sustainable Infrastructure was the finance partner. SolarKal operated as the solar procurement advisor for the project.