Finding the Light

October 22, 2014
Solar panels on the CSWR roof
Solar panels recently installed on the CSWR roof / Photo: Michael Naughton

Standing on the roof of the Center for the Study of World Religions (built in 1960), you can see Jewett House (1913), Andover Hall (1911), and now, solar panels (2014).

The juxtaposition highlights the Center's and Harvard Divinity School's commitment to sustainability and embracing a very modern technology on a campus steeped in history.

"We, of all places at the University, should be doing this," said Charles Anderson, assistant director for administration and finance at the CSWR. "The center's vocabulary has included 'ecology' since the 1990s, long before its sibling, sustainability, became part of the modern lexicon. The Center's commitment to sustainability is evident through the publication of its renowned Religions of the World and Ecology series and current junior fellowship studying nature and the environment. The solar project accentuates the Center's core interests in the interrelationship of people and the environment."

The 70 solar panels, capable of producing enough energy to cover 25 percent of the Center's current electricity needs, were installed beginning the week of October 13 and are expected to come online around the end of the month. The array is the first renewable energy installation on the Harvard Divinity School campus. In total, Harvard has over 1 megawatt of installed solar capacity on its campus including additional installations at the Harvard Business School, Harvard Athletics, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Forest.

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., director of the CSWR, commented on the project's highlighting of the connection between the Center's work and nature.

"Harmony with nature—working with nature, not against it—is very widely valued in world religions; today it is likewise a growing concern of religious people everywhere to respect the environment and minimize the exploitation of natural resources. That by this initiative the Center takes the lead in drawing on the energy of the sun and thus fostering a deeper sustainability is very much in keeping with the values of the Center from its beginning until now."

Solar isn't the only means by which the Center has worked to reduce its energy costs. It replaced its steam and domestic hot water system with gas, increasing efficiency. And the effort doesn't stop there. HDS community members are among the University leaders in capturing waste for recycling and composting. Additionally, Rockefeller Hall was awarded LEED Gold certification after undergoing a renovation that ended in 2008.

The moves at HDS aligns with the University's goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016, inclusive of growth, with 2006 as a baseline year. On October 22, Harvard University released its first University-wide Sustainability Plan, the University's roadmap for building and operating a healthier, more sustainable campus community.

"What we were really interested in doing is being an active participant in President Faust's climate initiative beyond what we had already achieved, and the only way we could really envision doing so was to participate in alternative energy," said Anderson.

Participating in alternative energy also meant finding a company that could install the panels. Massachusetts-based Transformations, Inc. was brought in, and the project was led by Derek Brain. Brain's mother, Judy Brain, received a master of divinity degree from HDS in 1991. Brain's father has worked at the School of Public Health since the 1960s, and Brain himself is a graduate of Harvard Extension School's Sustainability and Environmental Management program.

"It's personally really exciting to be doing a project here," said Brain. "I see myself as part of a continuum of this kind of work toward carbon reduction on Harvard's campus. Harvard has been a leader in energy efficiency and fossil fuel reduction and other carbon reduction strategies in the nation and in the world."

Brain said he's excited to flip the switch on the project. During its 25-year lifespan, the system is estimated to reduce the CSWR's greenhouse gas emissions by 182 metric tons. The reduction is equivalent to taking 38 standard vehicles off of the road, reducing the amount of passenger vehicle miles driven per year by 433,333, switching 4,761 incandescent lamps to compact fluorescent bulbs, or the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by 149 acres of U.S. forest in one year.

The cost of the project was funded by the Green Revolving Fund and was the result of a collaborative effort by the HDS operations team, the HDS finance office, Green Building Services, Campus Services' Energy & Facilities, the Office for Sustainability, and Planning & Project Management.

—by Michael Naughton