By Johnmichael Mulderig
Solar power is coming to the University at Buffalo (UB) in full force with a 1.1-megawatt (MW) solar energy array called "The Solar Strand". Although its currently under construction, the plans for the finished array can be neatly packaged in two words: practical and aesthetic. When completed, 5,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels, capturing solar energy to power the university campus, will artistically merge with the surrounding environment to form a work of public art and a space for learning. The panels, ranging from 4 to 25-feet above the ground, will run down a quarter mile of the campus's main entrance on Flint Street, taking the shape of a DNA fingerprint. The finished array will form the striking molecular structure to which the project owes its name.
The project, initiated and funded by a $7.5 million grant from the New York Power Authority, boasts Walter Hood as the Chief Architect. Hood's past work is a testament to the soon-to-be-aesthetic marvel that will dramatically enhance the landscape of UB's North Campus. The project has already received both national and international attention, and has been credited by UB's Campus Architect Robert B. Shibley as revolutionizing the way solar energy will be viewed in the 21st century.
In terms of its practicality, over 700 student apartments at UB will be powered by the energy produced from "The Solar Strand", and it is estimated that the University's carbon emissions will be cut by more than 500 metric tons per year. This advancement will greatly help the University achieve its goal under its Climate Action Plan that calls for on campus carbon neutrality by the year 2030.
The spaces' functionality is also apparent in its ability to accommodate different events for many Western New Yorkers and visitors. A new type of classroom, formed directly beneath the tilted panels, will include three outdoor social rooms to offer students and visitors the chance to study the panels' circuitry up close. This clever use of space will enhance learning and add vigor to a project that is the largest of its kind in New York State. Besides classes, University officials plan to have students and local residents utilize the space for tours and other educational related activities.
Many forms of alternative energy often garner a bad rap as they tend to be thought of as unsightly metal hunks of machine, inept at fitting in with the natural environment around them. Hood's design, however, takes aim at this challenge, and demonstrates the beautiful way that the technological and the natural can unite. When executed, his plan will create an enchanting connection with the surrounding wetlands and invite visitors to come and explore the land with pedestrian pathways that join the solar installation to a nearby creek. What is more, the project will provoke the viewer's visual senses with rows of trees and strips of mowed and unmowed grass forming a stripped pattern congruent with the DNA strand's linear shape.
"The Solar Strand" is as much a power-generator as it is a public work of art. With a new approach to integrating alternative power systems by combining functionality with aesthetic vision, UB is a frontrunner in the future of what alternative energy should look like in the years to come.
Construction on "The Solar Strand" began this past June and it is scheduled for completion by May of 2012. Here's to a bright future.
In 2010, GrowWNY followed the Art of Power competition, when Walter Hood was chosen as the designer for the Solar Array. Check out our "UB Art of Power" slideshow on Flickr to see submissions from all three finalists.
This story originally appeared on the GrowWNY website, a hyperlocal source of information about living green--powered by more than 150 organizations collaborating for our regional environment. Reprinted by permission.