SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah unveiled student-made technology Monday that university students and officials hope will open eyes to the potential of solar power and other renewable energy systems.
While celebrating the university’s solar system installed last year, University of Utah graduate Tom Melburn introduced the final product of a project he has spearheaded since 2011 to create a tool that sheds light on the energy-saving impacts and environmental benefits of solar power, which he said will hopefully inspire others to adopt more sustainable practices and attitudes.
“The cost benefit of installing solar panels on the short-term may not make the most economic sense, but it does on the long-term,” Melburn said. “So (this tool) should ultimately make it more desirable for people to adopt renewable, sustainable energy.”
The student initiative resulted in an electronic dashboard that notes real-time energy output of the university’s solar energy and makes the data more understandable by depicting examples of energy savings in relatable ways. The dashboard will be displayed on kiosks across campus for public eyes.
“By not only having solar panels on top of the building, but also the data coming into the building, we can make all that data more digestible to understand,” Melburn said. “With that, we can hopefully make better choices in our decisions to consume energy more wisely.”
For instance, the dashboard reveals the U.’s new solar system has so far produced enough energy to prevent the release of 23 tons of carbon dioxide, which would take five acres of trees to absorb.
The university’s solar systems consist of almost 470 panel units and has so far produced enough energy to power eight houses for one year, according to the dashboard.
It would take 42 barrels of oil or more than 2,500 gallons of gas to generate as much energy as the system has produced since it was installed in 2014, the dashboard illustrates.
“We want to use our campus as a living lab to demonstrate what is possible — what everyone out there in the world can do in the area of sustainability,” said Amy Wildermuth, the U.'s interim chief sustainability officer.
Lisa Romney, with Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky Renewable Energy, said she hopes the dashboard will “drive change” in the power industry.
“We’re getting to a point where it’s almost impossible to continue to use these nonrenewable resources for the long term,” so it’s becoming increasingly important for not only individuals, but also businesses to shift to more sustainable energy sources, Romney said.
Some Utah businesses are making that shift. The Utah Industrial Energy Efficiency Challenge and Utah Office of Energy Development awarded three Utah industrial firms Monday for ambitious and successful improvements in energy efficiency.
Rio Tinto Kennecott won first place, and J.R. Simplot Co. and Utah PaperBox were recognized as reserve champions.
“We commend these companies for their leadership in energy efficiency,” said Laura Nelson, Office of Energy Development executive director. “Each has achieved impressive results that provide economic benefits within their organizations and to the state. Moreover, their programs have resulted in measurable reductions in emissions, which contributes to improving our environment and delivering sustainable energy development for all of Utah.”