Tags Posts tagged with "solar"

solar

An ecologically minded health director turns to solar power to keep local waters clean — and sets an example for the nation.

Long Island Sound is a little greener, a little cleaner, and a little quieter, thanks to Michael Pascucilla, ’92, who oversaw the development of the world’s first full-size solar- and electric-powered pump-out boat. The utility craft, which removes sewage from other boats, finished its first season in the Branford River and Branford Harbor last summer.

Christened the Solar Shark, the boat is being heralded as a model response to the climate crisis. Its carbon footprint is one-tenth that of gasoline-powered counterparts, prompting Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s third district, to call the Solar Shark “a great achievement” — and it’s an idea unlikely to have seen the light of day if Pascucilla hadn’t taken Professor Emeritus of Public Health Gary Gesmonde’s “Diet and Nutrition” course as a college sophomore.

Fascinated to learn how food could be considered medicine and changing eating habits could cure illnesses, Pascucilla registered for more nutrition and public health courses. He ditched his plans to become an accountant, majored in public health, and went on to complete a master’s degree in public health at the University of Connecticut. After stints with state and federal government offices, he has been the chief executive officer/health director of the East Shore District Health Department since 2010, serving the communities of Branford, East Haven, and North Branford. “It’s not just a job or a career,” he says. “It’s a calling.”

Several Southern professors were influential in encouraging Pascucilla to answer that call. The beloved late faculty members Danny Gonsalves and A. Kay Keiser both provided the structure he needed as an under- graduate. Professor of Public Health William Faraclas gave counsel, discussing various career options and connecting him with his first internship with the public health office in West Haven.

“He was the voice of reason,” Pascucilla says of Faraclas. “He gave me that direction.”

Pascucilla pays it forward by teaching courses in wellness and environmental health at Southern and serving on the advisory board for the university’s Department of Public Health. He also lectures on epidemiology at Yale University.

The solar/electric pump-out boat began with an epiphany almost five years ago. Pascucilla’s office had been looking for ways to save taxpayer money and be more environmentally friendly at a time when one of its two pump-out boats needed to be replaced. Having just received a grant for an electric-hybrid vehicle, he thought, “Why not use the same technology for a pump-out boat?”

 

Pascucilla takes the wheel. The team recently applied for a U.S. intellectual patent for the project.

 

A boater himself — he lives by the water with his wife and their two young sons — Pascucilla had witnessed firsthand the effects of climate change in his neighborhood, with roads flooded by rising tides. He’d also seen the global impact on the news: fires, floods, and storms. The pump-out boat project gave him the opportunity to do his part in response.

He pitched the idea to state officials, wrote some grants, and secured $150,000 in funding through the Federal Clean Vessel Act through the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CDEEP). Pascucilla credits the CDEEP’s Kathryn Brown for championing the idea. He raised an additional $50,000 through fundraising efforts, assisted, in part, by his Southern students. Yale University students assisted with research.

Pascucilla admits to being intimidated by the responsibility of developing the new concept. “It was a little scary given the amount of money at stake,” he says.

It got scarier when the initial bid for a solar/electric boat that could perform like a conventional gas- powered design — able to reach speeds of 40 miles per hour — came in at over half a million dollars, more than double the budget. Forced back to the drawing board, Pascucilla and his team realized they could aim for less power since the boat would travel primarily on rivers or no-wake areas. They also swapped out the fiberglass hull for an aluminum one. It took two years, but they eventually came up with a viable design that had a 400-gallon holding tank and two four-horsepower Torqeedo engines powered by rechargeable batteries and a canopy of solar panels. With the batteries providing the main source of power and the solar panels a trickle charge, the boat is able to run for up to 10-12 hours at zero emissions.

From May through September 2019, the boat serviced five communities in the Long Island Sound, which is a no-discharge area, meaning boaters must have the waste on their boats pumped out, similar to the way a truck empties a residential septic tank. Boaters can schedule appointments at one of two marinas where the pump-out boat docks.

The electric/solar boat costs less to operate and maintain than a traditional gas-powered pump-out boat. Pascucilla and Sean Grace, chairman of Southern’s Department of Biology and co-director of the university’s Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies, are studying the benefits to aquamarine life of reduced noise from the quieter pump-out boat. [Read more on Grace’s other research projects.]

Pascucilla has been presenting data on the boat’s features at national and international conferences. “We’re hoping to see [that] the boat not only helps with air and water pollutions, but also with noise pollution for humans and marine life,” Pascucilla says.

He and his team are working on the problems of how to dispose of the batteries and reduce development costs. Pascucilla is optimistic about finding solutions for both. In time, he believes the operational savings of electric/solar boats will offset higher production costs, especially if they are manufactured in volume,  which he sees as the future of recreational and commercial boats. “In time, you’re going to see boats like this everywhere,” he says.

That will be an important step toward addressing the climate crisis — with the Solar Shark leading the way in reducing carbon emissions, keeping coastal waters clean, and lowering noise. “We need to be better stewards of our planet,” Pascucilla says. “It all connects back to the environment. What affects the environment affects our health.” ■

Cover of SCSU Southern Alumni Magazine Summer 2020Read more stories in the Summer ’20 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

Southern is committed to net-carbon neutrality by 2050. The university's growing reliance on solar energy is part of that effort.

Solar power provides approximately eight percent of the electricity used at Southern — thanks to two multifaceted solar installations on opposite sides of campus. Combined they produce almost 2 megawatts of energy.

The newest solar project, located on the east side of campus off of Fitch St., went online in early 2020 and almost doubled Southern’s solar-generation capacity. It includes two large canopy arrays located above both the Fitch Street parking garage and the adjacent graduate parking lot near Davis Hall.

The initial solar project, installed on the west side of campus and operational since mid-2019, includes more than 3,000 photovoltaic panels. They are installed in three arrays located on: the roof of Wintergreen Garage, a ground mount near Brownell Hall, and a carport in the main parking lot. Click here for a bird’s eye view courtesy of Southern’s new Drone Academy Program.

There were no capital investment or up-front costs to Connecticut taxpayers for either of the projects thanks to a partnership between the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system, Distributed Solar Development (a GE Renewable Energy venture), and the Connecticut Green Bank. Southern purchases the electricity generated by the panels at significant discount compared to previous utility rates.

How eco-friendly is the rest of Southern’s electricity use? It’s 100 percent green! In 2018, Southern entered a 3-4 year contract for green-e certified electricity with Engie, an energy company, and now pays the same rate as previously contracted for conventional-generation electricity. Southern has lowered its carbon footprint for buildings by more than 50 percent since 2008.

If you haven’t walked down Farnham Avenue lately, you should! A brand new solar array is under construction in parking lot 9 next to Brownell Hall. The array, comprised of more than 3,000 individual solar panels, has been in planning for several years and will generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year. Once operational, this solar power will lower Southern’s electricity bill an estimated $60,000 a year.

The project is made possible by a partnership with CT Green Bank and GE Solar, optimizing federal and state renewable energy incentives and a financing structure called a power purchase agreement (PPA). “SCSU is not investing a single penny of capital in the project, and we will lower utility spending as soon as we flip the switch,” said Eric Lessne, associate director of planning and engineering for the CSCU system. “The SCSU community can take pride in this project,” added Robert Sheeley, associate vice president of capital budgeting and facilities operations. “Clean renewable energy from the sun means cleaner air and water, a healthier community, and an important step toward reaching our sustainability goals.”

“This is exciting! We’re already planning a second project for the academic side of campus,” said Suzie Huminski, Southern’s sustainability coordinator. She also keeps the project in perspective. “In taking this big step with climate action, it is more important than ever to make sure that when we use electricity, we’re using it wisely. Believe it or not, we’ll create more environmental benefit simply through conservation than we can installing solar. Turn off those lights and equipment when you are not using them.”

map showing solar panels projected for SCSU campus

Southern Connecticut State University will soon be the new home for over 3,000 photovoltaic solar panels. The culmination of over two years’ planning, the renewable energy project will generate over a million kilowatt hours of electricity annually and will be installed with no capital investment or up-front cost by Connecticut taxpayers.

The Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (CSCU) has partnered with Current powered by General Electric and Connecticut Green Bank to install the solar energy system on the SCSU campus in order to decrease operating expenses. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2018.

Solar panels will also be installed at Manchester and Middlesex Community Colleges, with the goal of extending to other campuses including Central, Housatonic, Asnuntuck, Quinebaug, Tunxis and Western in the next two years. The solar energy initiative is funded entirely with private capital sourced by Connecticut Green Bank and once fully implemented is estimated to save CSCU more than $10 million within the first 20 years.

SCSU’s panels will be installed in three arrays: as a combination ground mount and carport array in parking lot 9 near Brownell Hall, and a rooftop array at Wintergreen garage. The panels will help power the west side of campus, which largely comprises residential areas and business operations. Eric Lessne is the associate director for project management and engineering for the CSCU system, and has a long track record improving SCSU’s energy efficiency. “This is a public-private partnership with Current, powered by General Electric, and the Connecticut Green Bank,” Lessne says. “SCSU will purchase the electricity that the solar panels produce with substantial and immediate savings compared to our current utility rate. These solar panels will power about 4% of our electricity use as a campus.”

illustration showing solar car port on SCSU campus

SCSU President Joe Bertolino, who in early summer 2017 signed We Are Still In, joining over a thousand business leaders, university presidents, mayors and governors to support climate action to fulfill the Paris agreement, is very pleased about the project. “Clean renewable energy and social justice go hand in hand,” Bertolino says. “There was no question we wanted to do this. We’re already planning a second project.”

Robert Sheeley, SCSU associate vice president of facilities and capital budgeting, chairs the SCSU Sustainability Committee. “Our partnership with GE and CT Green Bank is a triple bottom-line win for the environment, our campus community, and for taxpayers,” Sheeley says. “Ten years ago, we dreamed about projects like this. We’re looking forward to breaking ground next year.”

Suzie Huminski, SCSU’s sustainability coordinator, explains, “We chose sites for this solar project that are best for maximizing energy production and don’t compromise other potential land uses or ecological value. Even though our goal is to maximize solar installation, it is just as important to consider ecosystem and community value for potential sites as it is to consider southern sun exposure. We’re proud to take such a big step forward with our climate leadership efforts.”

SCSU students have been involved in the process as well. Huminski recalls that in 2015, four students worked with her as part of a fellowship funded by Energize CT. Together, the student fellows worked with consultants at Celtic Energy to conduct a campus solar feasibility study. The university was already in early stages of solar planning, and these students got a real-time firsthand view of planning a large commercial renewable project.

Of the four fellows, Huminski reports that Skyler Edmondson, ‘16, got a job working in the solar industry after graduation, and another fellow, Justin Lipe, M.S. Chemistry, ’16, now works at Quantum Biopower, Connecticut’s first anaerobic digester located in Southington. The facility converts food scrap to renewable energy and landscape products.

“Anything we can do to make our system and our planet more viable and sustainable in the future is a step we’re willing to take,” said CSCU President Mark Ojakian of the solar project. “I want to sincerely thank all our partners who worked hard to make this important project possible.”

“The CSCU has shown tremendous leadership with this initiative,” commented Connecticut Green Bank President and CEO Bryan Garcia. “The Connecticut Green Bank is thrilled to be supporting CSCU’s efforts to go green. By not only installing solar energy systems across multiple campuses at once but using private capital to finance the projects, CSCU will be saving significant dollars for the State. And with a high-quality partner like GE overseeing the installations, there is little question these systems will perform and create a win-win-win for all involved.”

“This project is a great representation of the potential of solar generation,” said Amol Kapur, Current by GE’s business development manager for the CSCU portfolio, “CSCU is demonstrating the value of bringing together engineering, technology and finance to support both business and sustainability goals.”