Photos by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Science & Tech

Harvard Athletics sports solar panels

4 min read

Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis building has University’s largest installation

Harvard College senior Justin Lanning had been running the stairs in Harvard Stadium since January, but it was early this spring when he noticed something different as he reached the top of the steps and took a quick rest before heading back down. Across a parking lot, on the roof of the Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis building, workers were beginning to install rooftop solar panels as part of what has become Harvard’s largest solar energy project.

“I thought to myself, what a great idea,” said Lanning, who watched the project unfold “like a flip book” on a weekly basis as he trained for competitive races and triathlons.

The renewable energy project was installed as part of Harvard’s commitment to sustainability and its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016 (from a 2006 baseline). During the course of six weeks, a local construction crew installed 2,275 solar photovoltaic panels on 1.5 acres of roof space. The entire project is expected to create 591.5 kilowatts of electricity from the sun’s energy — enough electricity to power approximately 100 traditional residential houses for a year. (The average home could be powered by a 6-kilowatt solar array, explained Joe Harrison, 
senior project developer for Borrego Solar Systems, the company that installed the panels.) This would save nearly 480 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The solar panels will deliver the electricity directly to Harvard’s electrical grid via an inverter that converts direct current (DC) from the panels into alternating current (AC). The resultant electricity can be used to provide energy to homes, buildings, and even the lighting for Harvard’s athletic fields.

According to Borrego Solar, the system was designed as efficiently as possible to allow for only 5 percent loss of electricity as the power runs from the panels to the transformer at the end of the line.

Harvard Athletics is incredibly proud of this project and the many initiatives we’ve undertaken to help Harvard achieve its sustainability goals,” said Assistant Director of Athletics Jon Lister.  “We see it as a project that benefits the entire campus, and it couldn’t have been possible without a team effort that included employees from FAS [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] Physical Resources and Planning, Energy and Utilities, EH&S [Environmental Health and Safety], and [Office for] Sustainability teams at Harvard Campus Services.”

The electricity produced by the solar panels and the solar panels themselves will be owned by Harvard Athletics and will be used to meet the University’s requirements under the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires Harvard to buy an increasing percentage of electricity from renewable sources. The project is expected to pay for itself within six to 10 years.

Harvard Athletics’ commitment to sustainability and waste reduction also includes recycling at football games and tailgates, the creation of a student-led green team, and the installation of a cogeneration unit used to heat pool water and domestic water for showers at the Malkin Athletic Center complex by generating heat and electricity from a single power source that reduces 197 tons of emissions annually.

“Harvard Athletics is showing that sports and sustainability go hand in hand,” said Heather Henriksen, director of the Harvard Office for Sustainability. “By building Harvard’s largest solar project, the team at Athletics [is] not only producing clean, renewable energy that will help Harvard get one step close to our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they are also demonstrating a pragmatic approach to their operations that will ultimately reduce costs,” she added.

The 501-kilowatt solar project on Harvard-owned Arsenal Mall, installed by Harvard Real Estate in 2009, is the University’s second-largest solar array. A solar thermal and steam heat recovery system installed on the roof of Canaday Hall in 2010 is expected to provide 60 percent of the domestic hot water needs for all buildings in Harvard Yard. Across campus there are more than a half dozen solar projects on the roofs of buildings at the Harvard Business School, in the Harvard Forest, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and throughout the Faculty of Arts Sciences.

The Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis building now sports the University’s largest solar energy project.