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Solar thermal system supplies hot water to Appalachian’s student union

PSUsolar_t.jpgBOONE—The student-led and student-run Renewable Energy Initiative (REI) at Appalachian State University has financed the installation of a solar thermal water heating system installed on the roof of Plemmons Student Union. The system will provide hot water for the building’s restaurants, locker rooms and bathroom facilities.

The $153,000 system was manufactured and installed by SunQest Inc. of Newton. Water is heated to between 100 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit by the system’s 42 solar panels and either distributed throughout the building for use or stored in three 400-gallon insulated storage tanks located in the student union.

Ged Moody, left, and Zac Dowell_t2.jpg
Ged Moody, left, and Zac Dowell check solar panels installed on the Plemmons Student Union roof at Appalachian State University. The panels heat water used in the building. Moody is Appalachian’s Director of Sustainability. Dowell is a graduate student in the Department of Technology and worked with the solar thermal system’s installer, SunQest Inc. of Newton. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)

Through an agreement with the university, seven prototype high performance and lightweight solar panels were installed as part of the system and will be monitored by students in the university’s Department of Technology.

SunQest has been awarded a N.C. Green Business Grant to help develop the lightweight, high performance collectors and will compare the performance of the prototypes with the 35 conventional panels installed at the student union. Initial readings show the prototype collectors generate temperatures 2 degrees hotter than the traditional panels.

When the weather is cloudy, the campus steam plant will provide hot water for the building. This project’s goal is to help reduce the dependency on the steam system when possible.

The project is estimated to save between $10,000 and $12,000 a year, according to Design and Construction Project Manager Patrick Beville.

Through the Renewable Energy Initiative, students pay a $5 per semester fee, which is used to finance renewable energy projects on campus. Past projects include installation of a 10,000-gallon tank that stores biodiesel used to run university vehicles and buses in the AppalCart transportation system, and photovoltaic arrays near Raley Hall, Katherine Harper Hall and at the biodiesel collaborative project at located off State Farm Road. REI fees also provided funds to install a wind turbine near the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center.

“I’ve been involved with REI since it began, and it’s just a great program,” Beville said. “I’m very proud of it. I’m very proud of the students involved.”

“Working with Appalachian has been and honor said Greg Baer, Professional Engineer with SunQest. “The facility staff were very accommodating and I have enjoyed working with the technology students and their professors. We look forward to helping with more solar projects in the future.”

To learn more about REI’s completed and upcoming projects, visit