In the College’s ongoing quest to become a leader in sustainable energy, the Office of Green Initiatives (OGI) has set its sights on a new lean, mean, energy-saving machine. A solar thermal project on the College’s central steam plant will be installed in late spring and has the potential to reduce natural gas consumption on South Campus by approximately 50 percent.
Just a shade off from Kenyon purple, the blue-violet panels will be attached to the roof of the central steam plant and will use sunlight to pre-heat the water that enters the boilers. This preheating process reduces the amount of gas used to turn the water into the steam that heats almost every major structure south of Wiggin Street. Director of Green Initiatives Dave Heithaus ’99 believes the project will result in impressive carbon reductions based on data from similar institutions. “Everything suggests that the solar thermal project is going to be an awesome advancement for the school’s efficiency,” he said. “It’s a substantial investment in pretty cool technology, it’s going to save money and it’s going to reduce our carbon footprint.”
Two students, Erin Keleske ’18 and Sam Wolf ’19, used a year and a half’s worth of research collected by several Green Initiatives interns and Robert Alexander, professor of economics and environmental studies, to present the proposal for the solar thermal project to the Board of Trustees in February. If the numbers prove to be as impressive as Heithaus predicts, Kenyon may consider installing similar solar thermal projects in other areas of campus. Kenyon partnered with Asulion, a company owned by Bob Jennings ’78, to develop the steam plant project.
The planned installation reaffirms Kenyon’s commitment to building a more sustainable campus. In 2016, President Sean Decatur signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging Kenyon to work toward carbon neutrality, and the OGI has been hard at work in its efforts to achieve that goal. “Kenyon really does have some exemplary resources in the green world. Between the Brown Family Environmental Center, the Kenyon Farm, the Philander Chase Conservancy land trust, and the Kokosing Nature Preserve green burial cemetery, there are some really positive things happening that are actively absorbing as much as a fifth of the carbon dioxide we’re emitting,” said Heithaus.
While these efforts to fully engage the environmental potential of Kenyon’s rural location produce significant change in the College’s green footprint, they also encourage students to make sustainable choices in their daily lives. According to Heithaus, “A student sees these projects and thinks, ‘Oh, someone does care.’ Over time, seeing that commitment from the top [of the institution] will make a difference. It’s all about shifting the culture.”
As he continues to develop a comprehensive, long-term carbon neutrality plan, Heithaus places emphasis on students’ passion for a greener community. With the help of 10 student interns, including Keleske and Wolf, the OGI aims to continue its cross-campus surveys and sustainability contests to create a multifaceted approach to carbon emission reduction and get more students to be passionate about a greener world. Additionally, the initial savings from the solar thermal project will go directly toward launching a student-faculty grant program that will give students the opportunity to create more change on a significant level.
Keleske believes these initiatives will make Kenyon’s efforts stand out. “Our approach to tackling the Climate Action Plan in general is really dynamic. … We’re proposing to approach the problem from [all of] these angles simultaneously.”
Heithaus recognizes the impact of the interns on the upcoming projects, citing their spirit for building a greener campus as the central pillar of all of these efforts. Said Heithaus, “The students really shine in terms of their optimism and their creativity.”