McHenry County College adds solar array to power tunnel used to grow crops year-round

McHenry County College added a new renewable energy source on its main campus to help power two of its newest programs.

The college’s Sustainability Center, its Center for Agrarian Learning, and the entrepreneurial agriculture program recently collaborated to incorporate a solar array that will power one of the high tunnels students use to grow crops year-round, according to a news release.

A high tunnel is a series of metal hoops covered in plastic that allows for temperature and water control.

“The solar energy powers several things in the high tunnel that are hooked up to a thermostat for temperature control,” Center for Agrarian Learning Director Sheri Doyel said in the release. “These include roll-down sides, an exhaust fan and shutters at the peak, and a blower fan that inflates the two layers of plastic on the top. The two layers of plastic – with that air in between – helps to insulate crops that are growing in the winter. The roll-down sides and the exhaust fans help to cool the house when it gets too hot in the summer.”

The center plans to use the new solar panel as not only an on-campus resource, but a demonstration for the farming community as well, according to the release. High tunnels allow farmers to better control when their plants are ready and in turn can help them grow a more profitable business.

“Farmers sometimes need to locate high tunnels in an area where there is not easy access to electricity. We wanted to provide an example of what it would look like to power a tunnel on solar for farmers who may be looking into this option,” Doyel said in the release.

The solar panel was fully funded by a grant from the Illinois Green Economy Network, a consortium of Illinois community colleges. The program offers yearly grant opportunities to all participating schools.

MCC has worked with the Illinois Green Economy Network on other projects, including a larger solar panel array at the college’s Shah Center location in McHenry.

“One of the wonderful things about this project is its size,” Sustainability Center Director Kim Hankins said in the release. “It’s relatively small – just four panels – so it makes the idea of using solar energy more approachable, doable and teachable.”