Addition of solar thermal panels raises College to new level of ‘green’

Dec 11, 2015

North Central College’s mission to integrate sustainability into all facets of campus life reached another milestone this week with the installation of state-of-the-art, solar thermal panels to its newest residence hall.

When the College opened its five-story, 229-bed upperclassman residence hall this fall, adding solar thermal panels to the roof of the building had been in the design plans from day one. Their installation took place during December Term. In January, these panels will be fully functional and provide 30 percent of the energy needed to heat domestic water throughout the residence hall.

“These solar panels have tubes, so they are different from the more common photovoltaic panels, which use the sun to produce electricity and work for things like turning on lights,” says Brittany Graham, North Central’s sustainability coordinator. “The solar thermal panels take the energy from the sun and use it to heat the water that’s used in showers and sinks in the building.”

It’s expected that 3,810 therms of natural gas will be saved per year. Using a renewable energy source like the sun, instead of nonrenewable energy sources that run out, is always the goal, says Graham.

Assistant Vice President for Business Operations Mike Hudson says, “The College has always pursued sustainable initiatives as part of its mission. When we’re looking at energy projects, we try to match up sustainability with an opportunity. This project is a natural fit and makes sense for a residence hall where large quantities of hot water are needed.”

North Central College received $50,000 from the City of Naperville as part of the Renewable Energy Grant program and $143,100 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation for the project. The roof panels contain 30 evacuated tubes to capture the sun’s energy. At ground level are two storage tanks, each with a capacity to hold 1,000 gallons of water, to serve the needs of the residence hall.

The idea of solar thermal panels on a college campus is not new, but it’s a first for North Central. The College has implemented many sustainability initiatives, including electric vehicle charging stations, composting, a geothermal heating and cooling system, campus garden, indoor and outdoor recycling program, LED lighting, bicycle-sharing program, tray-less food service that reduces water consumption and much more. The addition of solar thermal panels brings the College to a whole new level of “green.”

This project, says Hudson, also is meant to educate students and the broader community about renewable technologies and solar thermal energy options. Educational materials will be displayed in the residence hall, named New Hall, located at the Athletic Complex at 451 S. Brainard St.

North Central College has been recognized by various sources as a leader for its sustainability efforts, including being named a Green College by The Princeton Review in its annual surveys and achieving gold-level status by the Illinois Campus Sustainability Compact and the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition’s We Compost program.

To learn more about North Central College’s sustainability policy and initiatives, visit

As part of its weekly "Naperville News" program, Naperville Community Television (NCTV17) produced this story about the College's addition of solar thermal panels.