Jones College catching more rays

A second array of solar panels was recently installed at Jones College, enhancing the building’s contribution to Rice’s efforts to produce clean energy, reduce its carbon footprint and save money.

Jones College solar panels

Standing among Jones College’s newest rooftop solar panels are, from left, Derrix Norman and Brad Thacker, senior operations managers at Rice Housing and Dining, and Richard Johnson ’92, director of Rice’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

The new 47.5-kilowatt solar array consists of 132 panels, each rated at 360 watts. The installation is estimated to produce more than 60,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year — the equivalent of the average annual consumption of six American homes — and will offset about 40 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The first array at Jones, which consisted of 186 panels, was installed in 2014. Advancements in solar technology since then make the two installations nearly identical in terms of electricity production, according to Brad Thacker, a senior operations manager at Rice Housing and Dining.

At times, the new array on the north wing of Jones will produce more electricity than the building consumes. That excess electricity will feed back into Rice’s power grid. In addition, the new panels will help reduce Rice’s electricity consumption during peak afternoon hours when the cost tends to be at its highest.

“The electricity sector is changing rapidly, and I believe that expanding our portfolio of renewable electricity generating assets is an important part of our campus electricity strategy,” said Richard Johnson ’92, director of Rice’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management.

The project was instigated by Johnson and Mark Ditman, associate vice president for Housing and Dining.

“Jones College was a good platform for the first increment of panels, due to its flat roofs that receive full sun,” Ditman said. “The college is ringed by trees, so to the extent aesthetics might be an issue, the panels are visible to very little of the rest of campus. Jones North was selected for the second increment because it shared the advantages we identified at Jones South.”

Along with generating energy, the panels will provide shading that is likely to result in the building needing less energy for air conditioning.

About 20 Rice students participated in informational tours of the new array held April 9 and 11, Johnson said.

More solar panel installations on campus are possible within the next few years.

“We’ve identified several flat roofs at the north colleges that would be good candidates for solar arrays,” Ditman said. “I think we need more data from what’s in place to make the case to do more. I do, however, believe harvesting sun for power, rather than consuming nonrenewable sources, is something as a community we should work hard on validating a viable approach to achieving.”

To learn more about sustainability and green building at Rice, visit

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.