Gonzaga University does a lot in the area of sustainability, but recently, it has taken an exciting leap forward.
This year the Gonzaga Renewable Investment Group (GRIG) received funding to purchase a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery, giving it the opportunity to showcase the benefits of the sleek new technology and act as a prime example of sustainability on campus.
Juniors JJ Doria, the president of GRIG, and Nathan Harvill, the power team lead, have been working hard to bring an increased level of sustainability to GU during their years here.
“One of the big things is phasing out natural gas for campus, and so we are looking to have the entire campus electrified, all electricity, no natural gas, because at that point we could become carbon neutral,” Doria said.
Initially GRIG fundraised money to have solar panels installed on the Office of Sustainability, which now runs entirely on the energy produced by these panels.
“We started out with the main goal of solar implementation and got that and saw that we could use it in a better way with the battery and have a more complete system,” Harvill said.
Doria and Harvill saw that their system was not being used to its full potential, and the numbers proved it. The data showed that they were generating a lot of energy that wasn’t being used.
So, when there was no need for solar power and there was no energy use going on in the building, the extra energy was just going onto the grid instead of being used by GRIG.
They needed a solution.
The Tesla Powerwall 2 is a battery that is specifically built for homes. The battery allows the excess energy that is produced by solar panels on a home or building to be stored for future use, instead of lost to the public power grid, giving the potential for a completely self-reliant building.
“With this battery we will be able to capture all of our energy production and use it at times when we need it. The main goal of these battery systems is that you can control your solar panel generation,” Doria said. “You can have it on the outside or the inside, we are figuring that out still. Plant Services, the main department on campus who does all the work for all the buildings, are collaborating with us and giving us the opportunity to actually order the Powerwall and understand all the different things that are needed to have it installed.”
The funds giving GRIG the opportunity to purchase the battery came from Gonzaga’s Green Fund. When students pay their bills there is a small portion that goes into this Green Fund. That money can then be given to projects that aim for more sustainable practices. To receive the money, Doria and Harvill, along with their team, had to prepare an application and a presentation for a small review board.
“We applied back in October, and then had the presentation in November, and have been preparing, getting the right information and making sure it is a good thing to do, for the past couple months and even throughout the summer,” Doria said. “We were funded $13,000 for the battery, the battery itself is $6,700, but installation costs, different utility prices and taxes are all in the cost too.”
Although the process appears relatively simple, the team faced hard work throughout the application process.
“It took a lot of time to get the data to make sure we really knew what we were talking about, do the math and spreadsheets, and check other batteries to make sure it was the right size and the most cost efficient,” Harvill said.
They also had trouble deciding which company to purchase the battery from. They looked into saltwater batteries as well as other alternative sources but the lithium ion batteries produced by Tesla proved to be the best option for both cost, reliability, and size, meaning they would not have to buy more than one.
The goal for Doria and Harvill is that GU will be able to look to their project and use it as a sample to see if the Powerwall and other battery sources like it may be good options to implement into other buildings on campus.
“At the Office of Sustainability we are figuring out what works, and what doesn’t, and that has been the greatest takeaway,” Doria said. “We have a model for the rest of the university — we know how solar works for the entire year, we know how we can store the energy, we know who to contact. From here it is just repeating that process and going bigger.”
“We are learning a lot ourselves, but it is cool that what we are learning can actually go and benefit the school in a greater way,” Harvill said.
Sustainability is gaining traction on college campuses across country. This increased attention to sustainability campus community has brought with it a new realm of opportunity and inspiration.
“What inspires me is that we can find some sort of solution to these problems as a student group, that is the coolest thing ever, we have the resources, we have the university, we have the students that are interested, that can do these things that can make a difference for energy everywhere,” Doria said. “It is amazing how much opportunity we have here, we are just making sure to take ahold of that opportunity and go with it.”