B-School Students Implement Solar Power

Daniel Cook and Brian D. Robertson are the only students at Harvard Business School (HBS) whose most recent project can be found on top of a major campus building.

When an HBS alumnus requested last year that some students conduct a feasibility study on solar panel systems, he wasn’t asking for one to actually be built at Harvard.

But after Cook and Robertson undertook the study, they decided that it was “just as easy to do the project for a semester as it was to assess it,” Robertson said.

Harvard’s first solar energy system now sits on the roof of Shad Hall, the athletic facility at HBS, and recently, the 36,480 Watt installation was put into operation.

“It’s running very smoothly,” Cook said of the photovoltaic system, the second largest of its kind in the Boston area after the one located at the Coast Guard building in the North End.

Diodes in the solar panels capture the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which are converted to standard AC power without generating unwanted by-products like greenhouse gases. According to the fall 2003 Harvard Green Campus Initiative newsletter, the benefits of Harvard’s new solar panel system extend beyond its ability to produce “clean” power.

The newsletter states that the “source of power is infinite” and “the cost of electricity generated remains constant over the full life of the installation.”

And, Robertson said, “Harvard gets a saving on their electricity bill.”

The system, which produces about 45 Megawatt Hours of power annually, provides Shad Hall with between 15 and 25 percent of its electricity each day. More importantly, Cook said, it reduces the emission of about 75,000 pounds of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of removing 220 cars from the road—each year.

From Feasible to Fundable

When Charlie Langston, an HBS alumnus who works at a business which distributes solar panels, e-mailed members of the Sustainable Development Club in October 2002, looking for students interested in doing a field study about the feasibility of installing solar panels at Harvard, Cook and Robertson, co-presidents of the club, volunteered for the job.

Before they could install the solar panels, however, Cook and Robertson first had to find a way to pay the $365,000 price tag.

After submitting a 40-page request in January for a financial proposal to solar panel vendors in the United States, Cook said he and Robertson employed the skills they learned in marketing and negotiations classes at HBS to competitively bid the project to nine vendors.

Robertson said the project was awarded to Global Resource Options—a solar panel engineering firm located in the greater New England area—because the price was right and the plan required the least amount of work to be done on the rubber roof of Shad Hall to prepare it for the panels.

With the help of HBS Chief of Operations Frank Hayes, Robertson and Cook applied for grants and loans to buy the system.

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), a state development agency for renewable energy, approved a grant for $143,500.

“One of the things that drew us to the Harvard project was that it had strong education and public outreach components,” said Christopher A. Kealey, a spokesperson for MTC.

Kealey also said that the project has the potential to raise awareness among young people about what he called the need to switch from energy produced through the burning of fossil fuels to solar energy.

The remaining two-thirds of the price of the installation—about $250,000—was contributed by the Harvard Green Campus Initiative (HGCI) through an interest-free loan.

Leith J. Sharp, director of HGCI, called the installation of the solar panel system “one of our most strategically important projects because renewable energy is such an important and challenging area to get the university to look toward.”

Following the state government’s approval of a grand proposal for the project, construction atop Shad Hall began in July.

“Phase Two”

Now that Robertson and Cook have completed the first phase of their project, they are trying to implement “phase two.”

Cook said that one of the most satisfying elements of the project was that it combined “classroom theory” with “real-world application.”

He said he and Robertson will meet with professors in various departments of HBS in order to push for the study of cases on “clean” energy.

The classmates hope more students pursue similar projects and they are offering to give away the proposals they wrote for free as a guideline for others to follow.

“I think that this is just the beginning,” Cook said. “I’m definitely proud that we were able to make a positive social impact, but I think so much more can be done.”