Morgan White Electrical and Computer Engineering Building ECE net zero energy

“All in” on Zero Energy at ECE: Now 1 Year

A celebration for the 1-year anniversary of the Electrical & Computer Engineering Building’s (ECE) ‘net zero energy’ mark was held there in the atrium, a huge study and hang out location for students. It made sense, given recognition of the building’s ability to impact academic research.

Basically, students can plug in at a computer and be able to study how energy is collected, stored, and distributed at the solar panel array on the building’s roof as it’s happening. The energy produced there is used in the building. More solar-generated power is pulled over from elsewhere:

Photo courtesy of Grainger College of Engineering

“The ECE Building produces about 11 percent of its energy through its rooftop array, a 300 kW setup featuring 970 panels. The rest of its consumption is supported through solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) from Solar Farm 2.0, a 12.32 megawatt (MWdc) utility-scale installation on south campus bordering the Village of Savoy,” wrote The Grainger College of Engineering of the Official Zero Energy Certification from the International Living Future Institute (IFLI).

F&S operates Solar Farm 2.0 and Abbott Power Plant, a cogeneration facility that produces electricity and steam to much of campus. F&S Utilities and Energy Services ensure building and occupant safety and well-being at campus facilities.

“There is a sense of community spirit that is perfectly emphasized in an effort like this, through which so many people came together to help the ECE Building become zero-energy certified,” said Morgan White, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor and Executive Director Facilities & Services Designate, and Associate Director for Sustainability. “It’s inspiring to be part of a campus that devotes the requisite passion and perseverance to improving our sustainability efforts. The ECE Building is a perfect example of what is possible when we work together to improve the world.”

Tony Spurlock, associate director of budget resources planning with F&S, called the 1-year celebration a “major win” for the campus community. He and Paul Foote, F&S energy efficiency and contract specialist, worked to help the project hit net zero.

“Having the experience of the development of the solar generation and assessing the challenges of a large scale net-zero facility, it is terrific to see tenacity and collaboration rewarded with such an exemplary instructional and research facility,” Foote said.

Learning & Labor

Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Public Affairs

In addition to those who helped the facility reach net zero, thankful were those who do the research and teach in the building.

Said Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia, professor in ECE: “One way in which we’re using the building is to gather data from the solar arrays, ingesting it into a laboratory and simulating in real time, the power systems. that’s something we’re working on, is how to ingest that data and that laboratory, which will enable us to see what happens in realistic systems.”

A fellow colleague, Arijit Banerjee associate professor in ECE (photo right, below), detailed further how the panels inspire student motivation:

“There are 60 solar panels there for us as researchers. That’s an amazing opportunity for us to leverage. We can ask them to use in their senior design class. Each bench has access to a solar panel, so it’s very easy: you go on the roof and you shade the panels yourself and your colleague is back in the lab to try to extract power. This has real world impact.”

Phil Krein, research professor, was with the department prior to the building’s conceptualization – but he and others voiced for a challenge: make it the most efficient academic engineering building the United States.

“The engineering team and architects, they said, maybe we can go all the way to net zero. And eventually, we did reduce consumption and find resources to get to the zero mark. We said let’s make sure we don’t screw anything up, stay on task and don’t put roadblocks in the way of achieving that. It’s a tremendous success. We’re in an all-in climate and we’re in an all-in building.”

January 24, 2024