Site work is beginning for the installation of Western Carolina University’s Electron Garden on the Green, which is believed to be the first combination solar power generating facility and hammock “hanging lounge” on any college campus in the nation.
The area where the “EGG” will be built has been marked off and construction is starting with the installation of concrete footers that will provide a support base for 40 solar panels that will convert sunlight into electricity. The EGG is going up in green space across Memorial Drive from Walker Residence Hall, near Cullowhee Creek.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the finished facility is being planned as a part of WCU’s Earth Day activities Friday, April 22.
The EGG is the first physical structure funded through a student sustainability fee that was approved by WCU’s Board of Trustees and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to support projects related to environmental sustainability through the university’s Sustainability Energy Initiative, said Lauren Bishop, who directs WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Energy Management and the activities of initiative. Full-time students at WCU began paying the $5-per-semester fee in fall 2014.
The student-comprised Sustainability Energy Initiative Committee began taking proposals for projects to fund in spring semester of 2015. Proposals are accepted from students, faculty and staff and can range from “brick-and-mortar” structures to internships and research projects, but they all must adhere to a common theme of providing an educational value for students.
One of the first two projects approved by the SEI Committee was the Electron Garden on the Green, which was submitted by three students – Ross Heffley, Robert Bianculli and Chase Weddle – as their senior capstone project in WCU’s Department of Engineering and Technology. Advised by Bora Karayaka, assistant professor in the department, the three students proposed construction of a 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to supply power to WCU’s grid, reduce the university’s expenditures for electricity, and lower the amount of carbon dioxide released by WCU’s non-renewable energy sources. The system represents the first use of solar energy for generating electricity on WCU’s campus. Another component of their proposal was that the facility have a dual purpose by providing mounts for students to hang their hammocks for studying and relaxing, said Weddle, an intern in the Office of Sustainability and Energy Management who also is serving as project manager for the EGG.
The total cost of the EGG is expected to be around $60,000, and installation is being carried out by the staff in WCU’s Office of Facilities Management, Bishop said. Having the work done in-house is cutting the cost of the project in half. “Our electricians have been great partners in developing this project and they are looking forward to the challenge of doing something new and different from their usual repair and renovation work,” she said. The EGG will include hanging space for about 10 hammocks, Internet and USB ports, and electrical outlets.
“Hammocking,” which also is sometimes referred to as “ENO-ing,” has surged in popularity in recent years as an activity on college campuses and as part of many other outdoor recreational activities, said Zack Waldroup, an environmental science major who also serves as an intern in WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Energy Management. The term “ENO-ing” is derived from the Asheville-based company Eagle Nest Outfitters, which is widely considered to be the industry leader in hammock sales.
Waldroup, who also is a member of the SEI committee, said a poll conducted by WCU’s Student Government Association indicated that one of the biggest requests from students was that the university provide more trees for “hammocking.” The EGG will provide “an area for this activity while improving our sustainability and environmental consciousness,” he said.
Waldroup said he and his fellow committee members are “ecstatic” that the EGG is being constructed. “Years of hard work and determination from our predecessors is finally about to pay off with our first project,” he said. “It will put a face to the Sustainability Energy Initiative, and I believe it will really jump-start interest in our efforts and overall campus sustainability.”
The “predecessors” mentioned by Waldroup are past members of the Student Government Association and the student environmental advocacy group Eco CATS who worked for years to make the Sustainable Energy Initiative a reality, Bishop said. The proposal for the SEI was first drafted in 2006 by WCU alumnus McKenzie Dillingham, then-president of the Eco CATS.
The EGG is one of two projects that have been approved for funding by the SEI Committee. The second project, a nature-based sculpture program, will bring Camp Little Hope, a collective of artists, writers and designers, to campus in April and May to create site-specific art experiences, inspired by the Great Smoky Mountains, on the university’s multi-use trail. More details about that project will be included in an upcoming edition of The Reporter.