Ten Years of Solar Power at Roxbury Latin
“In 2012, Roxbury Latin installed a 138 kW solar photovoltaic array on the Albert H. Gordon Field House. The system provides all of the energy requirements for the Field House and Palaistra, and at times generates surplus power that is directed to the school’s HVAC system. The clean, renewable energy generated by this system reduces the school’s annual carbon footprint by 120 tons. This is the “carbon equivalent” of removing 21 cars from the road each year that the system is in use. To date, the solar panels have generated more than 570 MW of electricity. Roxbury Latin leased the panels for 15 years and, at the end of that term, will own the array. The school will save just under $100,000 in energy costs in the first 15 years, and will pay just a modest maintenance fee for the energy the system generates once the lease ends in 2027.”
— Elizabeth Carroll, Environmental Science faculty, from the April 2017 issue of the Newsletter
In the fall of 2020, the company that installed the solar photovoltaic array on top of the Gordon Field House returned to campus to install a second set of solar panels, this time atop the Indoor Athletic Facility—home of Hennessy Rink—which was completed in 2016 and has roof dimensions of approximately 280’ by 101’.
“The roof of the IAF is a large area, and it has a lot of value, as far as collecting electricity from solar energy,” says Mike doCurral, RL’s Director of Operations and Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. “Installing solar panels in that space doesn’t cost the school anything—there’s no outlay of capital—and the benefits are many, so in some ways the plan was a no-brainer.” When the proposal for the second solar array was approved by Headmaster Kerry Brennan and the Board of Trustees, Solect Solar began their work. The new solar array on the IAF has, as of December 2022, produced more than 364 MWh of electricity, which results in more than 563,860 pounds of Co2 emissions saved. This equates to more than 4,260 trees planted.
“One of the cool things about this project is that we’re able to store some of the energy we’re generating in a battery,” says Mr. doCurral. “Typically, of the energy you harvest, any that you don’t use, you lose. That’s why you always have to be on the grid, so to speak. That’s true of RL’s pre-existing array, but for this second project, we were able to install a Tesla battery, so we have storage capacity, as well. Based on the size of the roof and the technology, this project is generating about 50% of the energy that we need to run the IAF.”
With the second installation, the school signed a 20-year agreement with the company, who owns, operates, and maintains the array. Roxbury Latin agrees to buy electricity from them at a predetermined rate, which is fixed over 20 years, and benefits from using clean energy to power the school’s facilities.
Another upside to the solar array installations on campus is the nearby, tangible example it provides for students studying energy in their science courses. Elizabeth Carroll, who joined the faculty in 2013 and teaches Environmental Science, came from the private sector where she co-founded BlueWave Strategies and consulted in the clean energy industry for many years.
“Any time public funding is involved in a solar installation, the organization has to install a Data Acquisition System (DAS), which prominently displays energy and savings data in real time,” explains Mrs. Carroll. At Roxbury Latin, the DAS monitor is installed inside the Bauer Science Center, just outside the Physics Lab.
“Prior to the installation of panels on the IAF, the DAS reflected our 138 kilowatt system, rotating through screens that illustrate how much power the system has produced this year, how much power it has produced since it was installed, how much power it’s generating today. The great part is that it does conversions so, for example, it doesn’t just say it’s producing 98 kilowatts right now—it also says ‘That’s enough energy to power 22 computers,’ or ‘That’s the equivalent of taking 15 cars off the road.’ The result is that the data is really tangible for the students.”
In both her Environmental Science class and Class VI science course, Mrs. Carroll uses the DAS as an integral part of the curriculum for homework questions, and for projects students are doing. Ultimately, because every Class VI boy takes the same science class, most students in the school, by the time they graduate, know about the DAS, are aware of what it does, and understand how to interpret it. “I’ll have kids bump into me in the hall and say, ‘Hey, Mrs. Carroll, did you see we’re almost at full capacity today?’ They get it.”
As was true during her years with BlueWave Strategies, and as an environmental consultant, Mrs. Carroll is passionate about solar energy, and about inspiring others to think about how they can contribute to cleaner energy practices. In her Environmental Science class with seniors, they spend more than a month focused on energy. A unit on energy and climate change is also the most extensive unit in the seventh grade environmental science curriculum. In both courses, students are completing projects on various renewable energy technologies, including solar—and those students focused on solar are using RL’s own example as their primary source.
“As I am teaching about renewable energy technologies,” says Mrs. Carroll, “it is an invaluable tool and resource for my students to be able to look out the window and collect data from a renewable energy technology that is powering their own school. And, to underscore RL’s commitment in that realm, the same is true of the school’s forest. The fact that I can teach about plant life and ecosystems, and have my students walk out into our own on-campus ecosystem—or conduct class in RL’s outdoor classroom as we’re looking around at the things they’re learning about—is remarkable.”
“The downside of solar, generally speaking, is that it’s not terribly efficient. The way I explain it to students is, ‘You’re not going to solar panel your way out of an energy crisis.’ There simply isn’t enough land. However, we should have them on every flat roof, every Target, every IAF. Solar panels are not the solution to our energy problem, but they’re an important piece of the pie. That a school like RL, which has the roof space, has prioritized installing these panels is really meaningful, because that’s where we should be employing them.”
Between RL’s long-standing and recent environmentally-conscious decisions—including the installation of these solar panels, installing electric car charging stations in school parking lots, a commitment to reusable water bottles and composting, sustaining the natural forest on campus, installing more bike racks for students and faculty—Mrs. Carroll underscores that “Roxbury Latin is continuing to take meaningful steps to decrease its carbon footprint and demonstrate its commitment to environmental sustainability.”