A total eclipse of energy generation –for a moment

What happens to solar energy levels when a once-a-in-lifetime solar eclipse hits campus?

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law got a front row seat to exploring varying levels of solar energy during the solar eclipse on Aug. 22 that captivated millions across the U.S. For some curious U employees, an experiment in gauging energy levels in the law school’s solar-powered building at 383 South University Street was a fun follow-up to the solar event.  A dashboard near the law school’s café monitors the amount of solar power generated daily at certain times of the day. 

Maura Fowler, director of building operations at the law school, said the dashboard revealed changes in solar energy during the eclipse.

“We were able to pull numbers from our solar data as the event was happening. We are able to see in a day how many kilowatt hours of clean electricity are generated from the sun,” said Fowler.  She said at 10:15 a.m., prior to the eclipse on Aug. 22, the law school’s rooftop solar panels were generating 26.8 kWh.

Those numbers changed at 11:30 a.m. at the peak of the eclipse, when the building produced 2.4 kWh, before it crept back back up to 37.9kWh by 1:00pm after the eclipse.

Fowler noted that inside the building, lighting automation flipped on inside the building as the sun became obscured during the eclipse.

The law school opened a new building in 2015 equipped with solar panels designed to save energy and serve as part of a broader sustainability plan.

The solar panels are one of many sustainable building features that resulted in the law school earning a designation of LEED platinum status for the smart structural design in its construction. The facility has achieved a greater than 50 percent reduction in energy costs beyond code requirements when implementing smart design features when the building opened. Other sustainability features in the law school building include mart lighting systems, maximum use of natural light, window technology that reduces bird collisions and electric car charging stations.

“We are honored to serve as a representation of incorporating sustainability features, both internal and external, into the construction of an iconic facility and hope that our building will serve as an example to other university building projects and the community at large,” Bob Adler, dean of the law school, has said of the building’s sustainability efforts.

He noted the eclipse provided a unique case study in the building’s solar features.