CANTON — Hot water just got a lot cooler at SUNY Canton's alumni house.
A couple of solar panels have been installed on the roof of the building and, over the course of a year, will account for about 60 percent of the hot water energy costs of the building.
Students will be responsible for collecting data and monitoring the system, but the goal of the project is to prove that solar heat is a viable option for the north country.
"The students get the experience of putting them up there; they were the ones that really got it approved," said Matthew D. Bullwinkel, professor of mechanical engineering. "Next to energy efficiency, like installing insulation and buying energy-efficient appliances, solar thermal is one of the next best bangs for the buck."
During the spring semester, one of Mr. Bullwinkel's classes studied solar heating systems and made presentations to the college's administration to obtain approval to put the two panels on the alumni building. They drafted plans and budgets and developed a schedule to put it up, working around summertime renovations to the alumni house.
The panels have been at SUNY Canton for years, but have never been used to save money on energy costs. Instead, the panels were installed on the roof of Nevaldine Hall, and the students used them for their studies.
Two more panels will be installed on Nevaldine, but this time they likely will be used for air conditioning to offset energy use there, according to engineering technology professor Michael J. Newtown.
The panels will save the college money on energy and will give students first-hand experience, but that is not all faculty members hope for the system.
"The idea would be to make a database of data to show people that this kind of thing works," Mr. Bullwinkel said. "I think that by having data for this area, as opposed to having just projections, we actually can show that these systems can work."
Though the kinds of panels at SUNY Canton do not work well under overcast skies, they do continue to work even during the long, cold months of winter.
"On a good sunny winter day, it isn't hard to make hot water," Mr. Newtown said. "On an average day when there's a little sun, you can get to 120 degrees. It's not great hot water, but it's hot water."
On a sunny day, he said, the panels can heat the water to 180 degrees; 140-degree water is generally the hottest most people need.
As SUNY Canton sets out to prove that solar energy is feasible in the area, many north country residents remain unconvinced. Only about 10 homes in St. Lawrence County use solar water-heating systems, according to Mr. Newtown.
If the technology does catch on, there will be SUNY Canton graduates ready to work in the field to install and monitor it. Twenty students spent part of their summer installing and setting up the panels, and more are now keeping track of how well they work.
"They're they ones who have been up on the roof. They have the experience," Mr. Bullwinkel said. "I'm hoping they can go to a company and say, 'Hey, I've had this experience.' Now, we have 20 people who can join the work force."