With the entrepreneurial spirit of Green Mountain faculty and students, it’s no wonder that GMC has been on the cutting-edge of clean energy technology. Students have many opportunities to create independent studies and explore alternative energy technologies.
It’s not often that undergraduate students get a chance to work with cutting-edge technology, but this is typical of what a GMC education is all about. Here are some examples of current and past projects that students have been working on.
Wind Power on Cerridwen Farm
“Through independent studies and projects, internships, and very open-minded faculty, I was able to create my own education; something quite rare at the undergraduate level,” says Khanti Munro ’05, a self-designed, renewable energy applications major. “I am working in a field that I am passionate about, and one that directly relates to my studies.”
In 2005, Munro and his brother Noah were interested in alternative energy technologies, and what began as an independent study to simply learn about wind power quickly grew far beyond their original intent. They were soon attending zoning hearings and planning the logistics of delivering a wind turbine to campus. With a vision and a plan, they developed and built a windmill that helped to power the new greenhouse on the farm – another result of student vision and determination – and it now serves as an invaluable resource for GMC’s farming operations.
The Munro brothers also installed a solar photovoltaic system (solar PV) on the farm as well. This system was upgraded by students in 2010, when four underutilized 120-watt panels on the roof of Withey Hall were added. The PV panels now produce electricity and feed a battery bank to power the greenhouse.
Solar Thermal Hot Water
on Cerridwen Farm
“Our project here is to find ways to support a working farm without using fossil fuels and to be more self-reliant,” said farm manager Kenneth Mulder. “Fortunately we have some connections in the solar industry who are also pretty familiar with Green Mountain.”
In 2009, Garrison Riegel ’06 was contracted to install solar panels on the barn roof at Cerridwen Farm. As an agricultural ecology major, Riegel worked on the farm all four years before graduating. It was a special topics class in energy and the environment with environmental studies professor Steve Letendre which awakened his interest in alternative energy.
In collaboration with Mulder and environmental studies Prof. Lucas Brown, Riegel designed a system that uses solar power to provide roughly 100 gallons of hot water per day. He spent almost a week on campus, and the project turned into a hands-on seminar for GMC students in Brown’s design/build class.
Last fall, students, faculty, and local contractors built two identical high tunnel greenhouses on Green Mountain College’s Cerridwen Farm. The structures now stand amidst an icy landscape, but inside, plants are already growing in defiance of the cold Vermont winter.
Cerridwen Farm has been researching new ways to extend the growing season by use of high-tunnel greenhouses and renewable energy technology. With the support of a $15,000 grant from the Windham Foundation and additional funds received through the Jensen-Hinman Family Fund for research on fossil fuel-free agriculture, the College has installed the greenhouses on its 22-acre farm.
One of the high tunnels on Cerridwen Farm is equipped with a solar-thermal radiation system, which heats water and circulates it through radiant tubing running under the root zones of planting beds. The second greenhouse is heated only through passive solar energy, and serves as a controlled variable for the experiment. The main idea of the project is to find out if the farm will get significantly more production from the greenhouse equipped with solar-thermal root zone heating.
The College expects to have an indication of the effectiveness of the solar hot water technology by next fall, but will need at least three years of data and different crop production in both the high tunnels and outdoors to fully evaluate the efficiency of the system.
“Being able to work with students and give them this real world problem solving opportunity in sustainable agriculture and in renewable energy technology was great,” Ackerman-Leist says. “It has been this nice collaboration between the sustainable agriculture and the REED program, regional farmers, and just the collective ideas coming out of all entities, and the students having the chance to assemble not just ideas, but entire structures and renewable energy systems.”