All posts by Genevieve Kirschke-schwartz

5 Energy Efficient Things on Campus You Might Have Missed

Everyone has had that moment on campus where they notice something new and wonder, “Has that always been here?” Or maybe you even walk by these things every day and have never stopped to think twice about them.

UNC began looking towards sustainability initiatives in 1999. Since then, the university has undergone many projects to make the campus more energy efficient. A student fee to support renewable energy projects was added in 2004, with a large backing from students.

“Students pay a $4 fee called the green fee as part of their tuition,” said Charlie Egan. Egan is co-chair of UNC’s Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, RESPC. RESPC uses this money to fund different renewable energy projects around campus.

“We have a bunch of projects happening in parallel,” Egan said. “At any point in time we probably have between five and ten projects going on.”

Starting in Here are five things from your daily walk to class that were funded by RESPC.

Solar Umbrellas


These umbrellas are more than just a good way to avoid the sun. They have power outlets located at their base if you ever need to charge something.  The solar panels on top provide the electricity that you can use to power your phone.

The new solar panels being added to the Edible Campus will be even more powerful. The Edible Campus is a landscaping project at UNC that will grow fresh food at different campus locations.

The panels will be located in the garden at Davis library. They will have enough power to charge your laptop. Meanwhile, you can sit and enjoy a snack from the garden.


Solar Panel Trashcans


These trash cans and recycling bins also have solar panels on top. The solar panels provide the energy needed to send real-time data for when they need to be be emptied.

Egan said that they also compact the trash.

“Both these processes save energy from the collection process because the trash will need to be collected less frequently.”


Morrison Solar Thermal Collectors


The solar thermal panels on top of Morrison Residence Hall were added when Morrison was renovated in 2005. The panels absorb solar radiation and use it to heat the water in the building.

This was the first project ever funded by RESPC.


Staircase at the Bell Tower Parking Deck


The solar panels on top of the parking lot  provide the electricity needed to power the lights in the staircase at night.

The parking deck is also lit by LED light bulbs. LED light bulbs are more energy-efficient and are longer lasting than standard florescent bulbs.


P2P Express


If you have walked around Chapel Hill at night, chances are you have seen the P2P Express. The P2P is UNC’s free night bus that operates between Franklin Street and the residence halls between 7 p.m. and 4 a.m.

What you might not have known is that RESPC funded the switch to biofuels in 2005. Biofuels are an alternative form of energy that are made from organic materials such as animal waste or plants.

Using biofuels can reduce carbon dioxide emissions.


More to Come 

Next time you’re walking through campus, pause to look at all the things RESPC is doing to incorporate renewable energy. RESPC is helping to make UNC a smarter, more energy-efficient university.

UNC Makes Saving Water A Priority

The 2007-2008 drought affected the entire state of North Carolina. During that period, many changes were made on UNC’s campus. Students were encouraged to reduce water use, leaking appliances were fixed, and new water-saving technology was installed.

But the effort to conserve water didn’t stop when the drought ended.

UNC made the campus theme “Water in Our World” from 2012-2014. Many projects were geared towards water research or water conservation plans.

And the efforts don’t stop there either.

“Chancellor Folt has embraced the sustainability plan. Expect to hear her talking about the Triple Zero Plan soon,” said Kristin Blank-White.

Blank-White is the Research and Outreach Manager in UNC’s sustainability office. She says the plan, which is expected to be released soon, will advocate for UNC having water neutrality: zero net energy, zero waste, zero greenhouse gas emissions.

UNC will work to reuse water as much as possible so it can be resilient in times of drought.

“UNC does a really good job of using reclaimed water,” said Dr. Amy Cooke. Dr. Cooke, an environmental studies professor at UNC, teaches a course called Water and Human Rights. She says not everywhere in the state is as good at reusing water as UNC is.

“This is actually unusual in North Carolina. What seems normal here is not normal everywhere.”

The following gallery showcases some of UNC’s current water saving strategies.

Although UNC’s theme is no longer “Water in our World”, the water conservation efforts will continue for years to come. Expect to see more projects in the future.

How Much Do You Know About Being Green at UNC?

UNC consistently ranks highly in the nation’s “greenest” college polls. Some sources have ranked it the #12 greenest college, the #15, or the #18.  The rank changes based on the year and the specific criteria.

UNC has an office dedicated to sustainability.

“If there was one thing I wish students would know, I would wish they knew about all the cool initiatives on campus,” said Kristen Blank-White.

Blank-White is the research and outreach manager in the sustainability office.

Take this quiz to test your knowledge about being green at UNC and learn why the university consistently ranks so well.

Not as easy as you thought? If you want to learn more about sustainability at UNC, consider taking a campus sustainability tour by emailing the sustainability office:

The tour is a great way to learn about everything the campus is doing to reduce its carbon footprint.

Winners of the 2016 Energy Olympics

Wind turbines in Freiburg, Germany. Photo credit: Rachel Crump
Wind turbines in Freiburg, Germany. Photo credit: Rachel Crump

It’s anybody’s game at this year’s summer Olympics in Brazil. The fastest, strongest, and hardest working teams will prevail. But when it comes to renewable energy development, which country is the real winner?

The best policies, dedication to future goals, and percent renewable energy production show who will come home with a medal. See which country stands on the podium and takes the gold when it comes to production of clean energy.

Solar  Energy

Gold- Germany

Years ago, the German government paved the way for Germany to sweep the competition in solar energy. The government’s choice to subsidize solar power through a feed-in tariff mechanism has resulted in wide participation in the solar market.

“One of the motivating factors is their fear of nuclear power,” said David Salvesen, a Research Associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This summer he led a group of students through Germany to study sustainable energy.

“Following the disasters in Fukishima and Chernobyl they redoubled their efforts to move away from nuclear and they moved their efforts towards renewables,” he said.

Salvesen said that Germany’s financial model is another reason they have been so successful.

Silver- China

China is taking a different approach than Germany. China has erected large solar farms, instead of small scale solar installations. Predictions for the 2020 Olympics show that China could take the gold, with plans to generate up to 200 gigawatts by then.

Bronze- Japan

Japan comes sliding into third by getting bonus points for creative ways to incorporate solar. They needed to get creative because they do not have nearly as much available land as China.

Floating solar islands are Japan’s solution to staying committed to renewable energy. Japan is the country to watch, with a goal of reaching 100 percent energy by renewables by 2040.

Wind Energy

Gold- Denmark

Leading the race in wind energy is this small country located between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Denmark just set the world record for highest percentage of energy through wind power. More than 40% of the country’s energy supply is attributed to wind.

“There are multiple reasons and perspectives of why and how Denmark has been so successful in the wind energy development.” said Silvestra Valčiukaité, the president of Energy Crossroads, a non-profit in Denmark that promotes sustainable energy.

“Denmark serves as a great example of how it historically tackled energy security issues and how it became a first mover in the industry,” Valčiukaité said. “Of course, favorable political and economic conditions and being first in a market helped to establish different companies in the supply chain.”

Silver- China

China over took the whole EU for total installed wind capacity. They receive the silver medal because the percentage of their power generated by wind is not as high as Denmark.

The market for wind power in China continues to grow with policies that have piqued interest from investors.

Bronze- Germany

Once again, Germany’s financial model for renewable energy has allowed it to succeed. Even without government subsidies, wind energy is the cheapest source of energy in Germany.

“The cost of wind energy is very competitive and it is expected to come down enormously in the next few years,” said Andreas Von Schoenberg, who owns an environmental consulting firm in Berlin, Germany.


Geothermal Energy

Gold- Kenya

Kenya steals the top spot in a tight race with silver medalist Iceland for production of geothermal energy. Not only does geothermal account for 51 percent of Kenya’s energy capacity, but the country continues to development geothermal. Kenya’s gold medal also comes from them setting the path for renewable energy in developing countries.

Silver- Iceland

25 percent of Iceland’s energy production comes from geothermal power. Even swimming pools in Iceland can be heated with geothermal energy.

Iceland’s geographical location makes heating a challenge that geothermal has conquered. They harness the power of volcanoes for heating and cooling and for electricity.

Bronze- The Philippines

The government in the Philippines plans to double generation of geothermal energy within the next decade. Geothermal provides 27 percent of the country’s total electricity production. There is lots of potential for sources of geothermal in the Philippines that still needs to be tapped into.


A Fierce Competition

The financial and political decisions that a country’s government makes impact its success of renewable energy. Northern Europe may have a head start, but other countries are following their example.

Renewable energy technology continues to change each year. When the 2020 Summer Olympics meet in Tokyo, will a new leader emerge?

Going solar: how to incorporate solar into your NC business


A North Carolina Business with Installed Solar. (1.6 kWe, produces electricity and hot water. Manufactured by Advanced Photovoltaic Systems, Inc.) credit: NC Solar Center
A business in Salisbury, NC with installed solar. Credit: NC Solar Center


Save Money, Give Back: Go Solar

Businesses are always looking for ways to reduce internal costs. Often times, businesses are looking to give back to the community. But what if there was a way to do both?

Installing solar panels on your business can accomplish just that. And now, with community programs like Solarize, the process has become much simpler.

Solar panels can save your business money on utility bills over the years. Installing through programs like Solarize will put money towards nonprofits or low-income communities getting solar.


Solarize was started by nonprofits who wanted to bring a successful solar model to North Carolina. Solarize recommends solar installers and bring homeowners together to get group rates on their home installations.

Sally Robertson works for NcWARN, one of two nonprofits that sponsor Solarize.

“Businesses can sign up through us for roof panels or a ground mount,” Robertson said.

Robertson also said that while in addition to reducing your carbon footprint, installing solar will save money and benefit the community.

Below are the five steps to take to install solar on your business.

  1. Browse Around

How involved do you want to be?

Jay Linke is an energy specialist at Yes! Solar, a company in North Carolina that installs solar panels on commercial buildings.

Linke said doing research is the first step to getting involved with solar.

Lucky for you, it’s the installer’s job to make the process as simple as possible.

2. Get your free assessment

Free solar consultations can tell you if you should consider investing in solar panels. Not all businesses are fit for solar.

A Google Maps search of the address can sometimes tell if a business’s location is unsuitable.

So how does the installer tell if a site is capable of operating solar panels?

Linke said they look at the sunlight exposure year round, the size of the system and necessary site improvements.

Robertson said the installer looks at a few things.

“They look at a year’s worth of your utility bill,” she said. “So they’ll say, ‘here’s what you’re using every year in electricity and here’s how much sun your roof is getting.’ Based on that we can tell how big a system you’ll need.”

Ellen Cassily, a Durham architect who previously installed panels on her home, also installed panels on her business last year. Solarize connected her with Yes! Solar to complete the installation of the panels. The timing was perfect because she also needed a new roof on her business.

“We looked at some of my old bills and figured the sizing of the panels to be 15 kilowatts, so that would take up about 75% of my energy use, but that was not taking into consideration the new insolation that I put in under the roof,” Cassily said. “So I think I actually get taken care of more than 75 percent of my use.”

Cassily also said she has been very happy with her decision to invest in solar panels.

  1. Work out the finances

The installer will help you with this. Thirty percent of the cost can be claimed as a federal tax credit.

Loans are also available. And money will be saved in the long run on energy usage and property value. There are also additional benefits that businesses can enjoy.

“A business has additional tax benefits,” Robertson said. “There’s a depreciation thing where businesses can make back their money. It’s another way that businesses can make back their money a little quicker than residential.”

  1. Sign a contract and sit back

Lots of paperwork has to be done. Essentially, you are becoming a small power generator and need approval from Duke Energy. But the installers will take care of all this for you.

The installer will get the permits by putting in an application with Duke and with the utilities commission. You do not have to worry about the hassle of form-filling.

Then Duke Energy will conduct a review.

Linke said sometimes you will fail a review and have to pay to get a more extensive review done.

The installation normally takes a few days. It can occasionally take about a month, depending on the building’s current energy system. You can stay in the business during that time.

You can also pay an extra charge to monitor your energy usage on the internet. That way you can know exactly how much net energy you are producing.

  1. Save Money

The power output warranty on the solar panels will last 25 years. This means for 25 years the panels should produce 80 percent of the power that they did on day one, but they will likely last longer.

Solar panels reduce your energy costs. You will even generate extra energy that is sold back to Duke and receive this money as a credit you can use in the darker months.

The property value of your business will also increase, Robertson said. But there is a North Carolina law that will not bump your property tax.

“Payback can vary,” Robertson said. “We’ve seen about $11,000-$12,000 in the increase of property value.”

The process is simple in North Carolina, and should be utilized as much as possible before the federal tax credit expires at the end of this year.

So, why wait?


Standing with Subsidies

North Carolinians have shown to have conflicting opinions on whether or not the state should subsidize renewable energies such as wind and solar. But there seems little to debate about in the small town of Carrboro, NC. When asked about their opinions about subsidizing renewables, these citizens were unanimous in their support.

Solar Opposites

Some countries have embraced solar energy as an alternative to burning coal and oil. It has been praised for not only being environmentally friendly, but for boosting the economy.


But polar opposite views about solar energy have emerged in the United States. There are many reasons that people have chosen to oppose solar energy.


One town in North Carolina has become infamous for their reasoning. Woodland City rejected a solar farm due to concerns over the panels hogging sunlight. Citizens worried the panels would divert sunlight from agriculture, according to Buzzfeed News.


This town also cited cancer, diminishing property values, and vegetation effects as reasons for opposition.


A representative from that farm attempt to show that these claims were inaccurate. The town still rejected the farm.


The News & Observer showed that politicians are among the opposition. Bill Cook, a senator from North Carolina, rejected solar panels because they ruin farmland. Calculations have shown that panels have had no impact on farmland.


Fox News reported that a solar plant in California is actually doing more harm than good. The plant partially runs on natural gas to account for weather changes. It is not as energy efficient as the corporation claimed it would be.


Environmentalists have also claimed the solar panels hurt wildlife by scorching birds.


This California plant also received 1.2 billion in tax credits, reports the New York Times. Some taxpayers are not happy with the government heavily funding these projects.


Not all people share the belief that solar energy is a bad investment. Many states have accepted large scale solar projects and seen economic and environmental success.


Over 35,000 jobs were generated in solar energy in 2015, according to the Washington Post. That number is expected to increase as investors continue to profit from solar energy.


NBC News says that solar energy has resonated strongly with large companies such as Google. Google has invested over 1 billion in solar technology. Then they created an online service to show businesses how they can save money too.


As technology increases, the costs of solar are expected to decline even more.


Montana invested heavily in solar between 2010 and the 2015. This surge followed installation costs dropping by 50%, reports the Great Falls Tribune.  One irrigation company cut their energy bill by 70%.


The debate over solar panels continues in the United States. Questions over whether there should be tax subsidies for them will continue into 2016.