UAB unveils largest solar-energy system in Birmingham, earns silver STARS rating for sustainability

The new solar-energy system will be used to power a portion of the UAB Campus Recreation Center and utilized for coursework and research by UAB faculty and students.

solar panels 2016 insideThe 100-panel system, the largest solar-energy system in Birmingham, sits atop the UAB Campus Recreation CenterThe University of Alabama at Birmingham is now home to the largest solar-energy system in the city of Birmingham. The 100-panel system, installed by Birmingham’s Vulcan Solar Power, sits atop the UAB Campus Recreation Center and can be seen from Red Mountain and many UAB and non-UAB buildings.

“This is our first commercial-scale solar installation,” said Julie Price, UAB Sustainability Coordinator. "The visibility of the system cultivates a recognition and inquiry from the community that aligns directly with our mission to generate public engagement. It is a great pinnacle project that will open the door for us to engage people about solar energy and other facets of sustainability as well.”

In addition to serving as a source of power, the system will be utilized for coursework and research by UAB students and faculty. UAB Emergency Management and other departments will utilize weather sensors on the system.

“We are treating our campus as a living lab, where we can incubate new technologies and monitor their performance,” Price said. “We are using our building, not just to have classes or for patient care, but to learn from them and try new things.”

UAB’s Solar Decathlon team is the first to utilize the new system for learning. The team is one of 16 collegiate teams from around the world selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 competition. The team of 20 students is tasked with designing a house that is powered completely by solar power. The students are studying the new system to learn how it would be utilized in a residential setting.

The solar panel system is large enough to power four or five homes or one small business. The low-voltage system is estimated to generate approximately $600 per month in utility savings. UAB students, faculty, staff and patrons of the UAB Campus Rec Center will be able to see data collected by the system via a monitor installed on the first floor.

This is not the first solar project at UAB. In 2008, eight solar panels were installed at the UAB Facilities building to charge electric cars used by Facilities employees. UAB Sustainability also installed ConnecTable solar charging stations on tables outside of the UAB Hill Student Center for charging phones and laptops outdoors. The addition of the new solar-energy system supports UAB’s efforts to become one of the most sustainable urban campuses in the country.

The addition of the new solar-energy system supports UAB’s efforts to become one of the most sustainable urban campuses in the country.

This year, UAB earned its first rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System for its leadership and innovation in university sustainability. STARS is a self-reporting sustainability evaluation tool developed by the Association for the Advancement Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for the higher-education community. The system measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education. 

The STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in four overall areas: operations, academics, engagement, planning and administration. UAB received a rating of “Silver,” earning high marks for its efforts in public engagement and innovation.

More information about UAB’s sustainability efforts can be found on the UAB Sustainability website.

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