Campus News

UW-Madison Arboretum to begin solar energy system upgrade

Image By: Courtesy of UW-Madison

This week, the UW-Madison Arboretum Visitor Center will begin renovations to upgrade its solar panel system and install energy-efficient LED lighting.

The changes are in keeping with the Arboretum’s vision of “restoring ecologically sustainable relationships between people and the land through integrative, innovative, and collaborative approaches in science, stewardship, education, and public engagement.”

The solar panel upgrade, which will be installed by Madison solar energy contractor/photovoltaic developer SunPeak, is intended to function for 30 years and may minimize the Arboretum’s annual energy cost by a projected total of $3,750. Approximately eight percent of the center’s energy needs would be met by the installation of the solar energy system at this time.

“The new Visitor Center system will include an array of 66 photovoltaic modules that are projected to produce 32,300 kilowatt-hours in the first year of operation,” says UW-Madison Arboretum Communications Coordinator Susan Day in an Oct. 6 news release describing the benefits of the Visitor Center upgrade.

The Arboretum Visitor Center, as well as its other facilities, is closed until further notice due to COVID-19; consequently, the renovation process will not affect visitor policies for the time being.  

Numerous project partners have supplied donations to aid the renovation process. 

Solar panels have been gifted to the Arboretum by Solar for Good, a solar power initiative from renewable energy nonprofit RENEW Wisconsin. Likewise, the UW-Madison Arboretum intends to submit a refund application to Focus on Energy upon the end stages of renovation. The Focus on Energy program serves to promote renewable resources and energy efficiency in the state of Wisconsin.

Nonprofit organization Friends of the Arboretum donated $25,000 toward planning and paying for installation and labor. 

Additionally, the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability’s Green Fund Program allocated $20,000 toward planning for the solar panel upgrade. 

“The Green Fund engages students in projects that improve the sustainability of campus facilities,” Day says in the news release. “Undergraduates from the student organizations HELIOS and Sierra Student Coalition have been involved in every stage of the process: reviewing project specifications, calculating the impacts of the upgrades, meeting with project partners, writing grant proposals, and crafting communications to reach campus and community audiences.”

The Green Fund is also collaborating with the Arboretum to install energy-efficient LED lighting in the Visitor Center. A 2018 Madison Gas and Electric energy use assessment determined these lighting system adjustments could help conserve energy. 

This renovation project received $30,000 in funding, which was granted to students who submitted funding applications with the Green Fund program.

The Arboretum now understands that solar electricity generated through the incoming solar panels will be of even greater use once new lighting is installed, minimizing the total amount of energy used by the Visitor Center. 

The news release lists Arboretum staff engagement, staff education, infrastructure updates previously-installed 2019 air conditioning upgrades as other factors contributing to the decrease in energy consumption. 

The UW-Madison Arboretum Visitor Center has been named a certified office on the Platinum level of the Green Office Certification — a UW-Madison Office of Sustainability program that strives to brainstorm and implement sustainable advancements for work environments. 

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