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Many Colorado School of Mines graduates work in industries that extract fuels from the ground. But the school itself is now looking into the possibility of a major investment that would allow it to power itself with energy from the sky.

On Jan. 13, Golden-based design and construction firm McKinstry announced in a release that it will be partnering with School of Mines on a study that will examine the feasibility of installing solar energy systems campus-wide.

According to a news release, the study will provide an understanding of the overall costs, benefits, and the potential photovoltaic capacity that could be installed on the central campus and Mines Park.

“McKinstry is excited to incorporate a student engagement component in the solar study through the capstone Design@Mines program,” said Leslie Larocque, McKinstry’s Vice President, Energy & Technical Services for the Mountain Region. “Under the direction of our powerED team, students will work and design the study for Mines Park (a small section of the north campus) which will be incorporated into the larger study.”

The project team will gather data, conduct audits and perform analyses to model and design recommended systems. Students will use tools like CAD and Helioscope modeling to help create case studies using actual project data, review their analyses with McKinstry engineers and present the findings of this study as their capstone project.

Design@Mines collaborates with industry, government agencies, and community organizations to put students on the front lines of innovation and discovery through real-world challenges. 

“Working with the McKinstry team has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and through this project the team has grown as engineers,” said RJ Scavo, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Mines, through the release.

McKinstry completed a 74-kilowatt solar array on campus in September at the new McNeil Hall, which is predicted to generate 100 MWh of energy each year. The array was part of a building retrofit and operational improvement effort energy performance contract (EPC) that began in 2018.

In the same year, Mines launched McKinstry’s powerED energy awareness and savings program. The program uses a highly collaborative approach to increase staff and student awareness and engagement, identify energy savings opportunities, communicate performance results and promote success.

According to the release, the entire McKinstry EPC project is expected to save Mines nearly $451,500 annually through reduced utility and operational costs. These savings will cover the $4.8 million project over a 10.5-year payback period. McKinstry also helped Mines secure $95,000 in utility rebates to offset initial costs.