New hall will harness alternative energy as power source

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A. Sue Weisler

The new hall—housing the Golisano Institute for Sustainability—is one of the world’s only microgrids that doubles as a living laboratory and research center for alternative energy.

RIT is keeping up with its reputation as a leader in sustainability by building one of the world’s only microgrids that doubles as a living laboratory and research center for alternative energy.

Harnessing natural resources, the new hall, which will house Golisano Institute for Sustainability, will draw from solar, wind, fuel-cell and geothermal energy and will be studied as a model of sustainability and energy efficiency in both the research world and manufacturing industry.

“The key here is that you will have all sorts of alternative energy,” says Nabil Nasr, director of Golisano Institute for Sustainability. “It will be a very sophisticated microgrid.”

The new state-of-the-art facility will include classrooms, research centers, administrative offices and community outreach event spaces, all while keeping the environmental impact to a minimum.

A 400-kilowatt fuel cell will provide a majority of the hall’s electrical power, and the associated thermal energy will be captured for use, increasing the system efficiency twofold. Approximately 200 solar panels will line the hall’s roof, providing a 40-kilowatt system of photovoltaic energy to the grid. Wind turbines will line the entryway to the institute adding not only a dynamic visual aesthetic to the hall but more power to the grid.

The hall will also rely on the constant temperature of the Earth’s crust. Wells will be drilled into the Earth’s crust to be used as a heat sink/source to aid the cooling and heating systems.

The hall’s excess energy from the microgrid will feed into the university’s overall energy grid.

Not only is the hall utilizing alternative energy, it will consume considerably less energy than any comparable building. The hall is on track for LEED Platinum certification. The facility is expected to be complete next fall.

Along with alternative forms of energy to reduce the facility’s footprint, it will utilize natural light as part of its energy plan—acting as a heat source and as an alternative to using lights that draw power. Internal lights will run on automatic systems that turn off when rooms are not being used.

“All of these together help the hall’s sustainability and act as a great opportunity for Golisano Institute for Sustainability to utilize these systems as a learning tool,” says Brian Danker, chief engineer of the project.

As part of Golisano Institute for Sustainability’s efforts to impact on-campus sustainability efforts and global sustainability efforts, businesses will partner with the institute to study the model of energy efficiency. General Motors and Delphi will use the center as a model of sustainable manufacturing practices.

“The hall will truly be a living lab,” adds Nasr. “You will be able to see it first hand.”

The Rochester Community Coalition, formed by the Rochester Business Alliance, listed Golisano Institute for Sustainability as a top priority for state funding, citing a possible $650 million in regional earning potential.

The Golisano Institute for Sustainability was formed in 2007 thanks to a $10 million gift from Paychex founder and local philanthropist B. Thomas Golisano. It currently houses one of the world’s first doctoral programs in sustainability as well as master’s degrees in sustainable systems and sustainable architecture. The institute conducts cutting-edge research in nanotechnology, alternative energy development and validation and sustainable design, and houses the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute.

To see a video about the new Golisano Institute for Sustainability, go to