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Student Groups Receive Grant to Install Solar Array on Ford

Northwestern University is one step closer to having its first solar electricity system.

For the past year, student groups Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) and the Northwestern Sustainability Fund have been raising money to install a solar array on top of the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.

After having raised $40,550, the groups recently learned that they were selected to receive a $65,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF).

"We are closer than we've ever been to bringing renewable energy to Northwestern," says Ren Chung Yu, a project leader with ESW. "There have definitely been a lot of obstacles and challenges raising funds, but we really believe in this project and its goals and mission. We believe this system will have a huge value in terms of education and in NU's standing in sustainability."

The project started a year ago, when Yu and fellow solar car team member Phil Dziedzic realized that Northwestern had no on-site renewable energy system. They began raising money through internal grants from the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, Facilities Management, and McCormick's Murphy Society grant program, among others. From discussions among students and Northwestern staff, it was decided that Ford would be the best location for a solar array.

"We thought Ford was a great location for visibility," says Yu, an electrical engineering senior. "It's LEED certified and it's new, and it's a center for developing new ideas."

"It's the highest concentration of people who are interested in creating something like this," says Anthony Valente, president of the Northwestern Sustainability Fund, a student group that provides funding for collaborative projects that increase sustainability at the university.

The solar array would cover most of the west part of the Ford roof and would generate 20,000 kilowatt hours annually. That's enough to power the Mechatronics Lab in the building and offset enough carbon dioxide equivalent to planting four acres of trees."

The group is raising an additional $10,000 to account for contingencies, and estimates that the system will be in place in six to 12 months.

"This is a stepping stone project," Valente said. "It's another way to show the administration that students care about sustainability and the environment, and it's something that they should invest in substantially. As people continue to be successful in sustainability initiatives, it spurs other people to do it. It's a snowball effect."