Published January 10, 2022
UB’s GRoW Clean Energy Center is officially open for use as a tour, meeting and event space for small groups.
This ultra-energy-efficient demonstration home, originally built by students, faculty and staff for a national competition, is now serving as a clean energy education center following its relocation from the South Campus to the North Campus during the 2020-21 academic year.
GRoW stands for Garden, Relax or Work, reflecting the intention behind the design of the facility, originally called the GRoW Home. The center’s architecture showcases how, through the integration of urban agriculture, the community can reduce the energy involved in producing food.
The structure sits near the Flint Road entrance to the North Campus, next to the award-winning Solar Strand, and is accessible via the UB Stampede and Green Line shuttles, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s No. 44 and No. 35 bus routes. Biking and walking paths also lead to the facility.
The center’s design accommodates up to two dozen people. It comprises a conference room, a greenhouse and solarium called the GRoWlarium, a wraparound deck with outdoor seating, a kitchenette and a bathroom. Sliding open an accordion door turns the conference room into a presentation room, with seating for an additional audience in the adjacent GRoWlarium, which was originally designed to be used to grow food year-round. Its highly insulated walls and windows regulate temperatures during cold winters and hot summers.
Cam Hotto, president of the UB Sustainable Business Association, booked the facility for a recent club meeting.
“The GRoW Clean Energy Center is a great place for group meetings, and the space is inviting. I appreciate that it was built for students by students,” Hotto says. “The resources that UB Sustainability provides are extremely beneficial, and I hope more students and community groups take advantage of the opportunities that the center presents.”
The GRoW facility was designed and constructed in 2015 for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a competition that tasked university teams with building an ultra-efficient clean energy home. This student-driven collaborative effort engaged more than 200 UB students, along with faculty and staff, in 13 departments.
The GRoW center was installed and exhibited on the South Campus behind Hayes Halls after the competition, with support from the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Campus Challenge initiative from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). NYSERDA also provided key investment funds for the structure’s relocation to the North campus.
“We greatly appreciate NYSERDA’s support and additional funds committed by the university to make the move and renovation possible, and advance our sustainability and climate action work across the enterprise,” says Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration.
The GRoW Clean Energy Center is strategically positioned beside the Solar Strand — a collection of 3,200 photovoltaic panels that generate solar power for the campus. Proposed sustainable landscaping using native plants would extend from the GRoWlarium out toward the strand as a finishing touch.
“The Solar Strand and GRoW Clean Energy Center couple well together, as they make their technology visible and known,” says Martha Bohm, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, who was instrumental in the center’s design as faculty adviser on the 2015 Solar Decathlon entry. “They lead into other sustainability strategies, such as the UB bees hives, that are located within walking distance and convey what a sustainable future looks like, especially in the context of an institution.”
The sustainable vision of the center is evident in its solar panels, high-performing insulation and low-energy lights. Notably, the structure is energy-negative, meaning it produces more clean energy than it consumes. In addition to the Solar Strand, other clean energy installations that will be located nearby include an innovative battery-technology system that’s being piloted with clean energy storage in mind.
Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer, has exciting plans for the space. He hopes that the GRoW facility can serve as a hub where clubs, faculty, students, staff and organizations can gather regarding their sustainability-related endeavors. Community engagement, tours, research, workshops, retreats, summer camps, departmental meetings, receptions and more could be hosted in the center, he says.
“GRoW is a signal to the university and our community to advance the type of student-inspired thinking that we need to do. We need people who are willing to combat climate change and take climate action, and the center serves as a resource for our students, faculty and staff to do so,” McPherson says.