New solar array celebrated at Founder’s Day dedication

Mallory Fencil

Scores of alumni, trustees and local citizens trekked to the base of Mount Fiji last Saturday afternoon for the dedication of the newly installed solar array system, which has already reduced the college’s energy use by 23 percent in its first month. The ceremony focused on the social and political impact of the array, and was followed by a reception featuring bicycle-powered music.

Rather than a traditional ribbon cutting, a piece of Claes Oldenburg-inspired art marked the solar array dedication, which took place as part of the Founder’s Day festivities. Art History major Art Modell (junior) carved and installed a sculpture shaped like an electrical plug and a wall outlet, which lit up in a display of green light powered by one of the SunPower solar panels.


An arrangement of 200 parked cars on upper campus exemplified the environmental impact of the array, representing the 1,250 tons of carbon dioxide the array system will remove each year.

“While our chief goal has always been to reduce the college’s dependence on fossil fuels, the time spent in developing the array reflects our desire to address solar power in a new, creative way,” President Johnathan Veitch said at the dedication. “It represents a new paradigm for arrays as architectural objects.”

Keynote speaker Hector De La Torre, an Occidental alumnus and trustee, began his speech with a quote from the Doors song “Waiting for the Sun” and followed with a discussion of the existential importance of the sun as a driving force of the solar system. He also explained the need for solar and other renewable energy sources and the scientific process of electrovoltaic effects.

“The amount of solar energy that reaches the Earth each hour is the equivalent to the amount of energy used by all humans, worldwide, each year,” De La Torre said at the dedication. “We all have our personal histories and memories. Southern California’s sun is a constant attraction for out-of-state students and we have all lounged by the quad, laid by the pool, tossed a Frisbee over at Stewie beach almost all year round.”

The solar array project began about four years ago, when the college’s then-president, Robert Skotheim, formed a sustainability committee. Physics Professor Daniel Snowden-Ifft joined the committee and started a solar-themed subcommittee with the intent of utilizing advanced solar technology.

When in full effect, the array system is predicted to generate an estimated 1.124 megawatts of direct current, reducing the college’s energy use by 11 percent per year. During the past month of operation, however, the energy generated by the array has exceeded these numbers by nearly 12 percent of the predicted value, according to the Also Energy website.

The array will pay for itself within 12 years and a warranty that replaces any panel functioning at 80 percent or less efficiency within the next 25 years, will generate virtually cost-free energy for at least a quarter-century, thanks to a warranty that replaces any panel functioning at 80 percent or less efficiency for the next 25 years. Due to the California Solar Initiative, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) will refund the school half the cost of the arrays, reducing the net cost of the array system to 3.4 million dollars, according to Professor Snowden-ifft..

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was present at the ceremony and spoke briefly about Los Angeles’ efforts to become a cleaner city and the contribution that the array and car ports provided in regards to that goal.

“On behalf of the city of Los Angeles, I acknowledge you for your leadership and vision,” Villaraigosa said to Veitch at the dedication.

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One Response to “New solar array celebrated at Founder’s Day dedication”

  1. News & Notes From Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock And Echo Park | Eastsider LA | Hometown Pasadena | on April 24th, 2013 8:02 am

    [...] New solar array cuts Occidental College power use by 23% in first month. Occidental Weekly [...]

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