Solar panels atop Johns Hopkins Eastern office building

Solar panels cover roof of old Eastern High School in Waverly, now used as offices by Johns Hopkins University (Eastlight Renewable Ventures / May 7, 2012)

College students are gluttons for catching rays - now schools are getting in the act, too.

In a bid to shrink its carbon footprint, Johns Hopkins University has put 2,900 photovoltaic panels on the roofs of seven of its buildings, on its Homewood and East Baltimore campuses and on the old Eastern High School building in Waverly that JHU has converted into offices.

The JHU panels are expected to produce 997,400 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, officials say.  Though that sounds impressive, it's about the same amount of power as 34 average homes consume in a year.

The complete 818-kilowatt installation will only furnish about 1 percent of the university's entire energy needs, according to Davis Bookhart, JHU's sustainability director.  For the seven buildings topped with solar panels, they could get anywhere from 5 to 12 percent of their power from the sun, he said.

Still, university officials estimate the solar arrays should lower JHU's output of carbon dioxide by 1.2 million pounds annually.

The project also lowers JHU"s power bill some.  Designed by RGS Energy, the system was installed and is owned by Eastlight Renewable Ventures. Though the bulldings are still hooked up Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., the university buys power generated by the panels at a rate slightly below current BGE prices.

This may or may not be the biggest solar array in Baltimore city.  Chimes International put 3,000 PV panels last fall on its buildings and on the grounds of its 12-acre campus on Seton Drive.  Though more panels than at JHU, the Chimes system has a smaller capacity - 670-kilowatts.

What's most likely, given the proliferation of solar power projects lately, is that by the end of the year there'll be yet another claimant to having the biggest ray-catching array in Baltimore.