Bernadette Moke, a junior at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), sits on the roof in the sun, reading a book and drinking in the sunlight. She is not alone in soaking up as much sun as she can on this roof-top terrace. Just beside her, in the center of the roof, lay 160 solar panels, some of which automatically follow the path of the sun. Moke likes to observe the panels.
"The solar panels even move a little at night,” she says. “It’s fascinating.”
Moke’s words would please Leon Baptiste. In the summer of 2004, Baptiste, of Roxbury Township, installed the solar panels on the roof of the new Campus Center. Baptiste, who graduated from NJIT in 1991 with an electrical engineering degree, says the solar unit is state of the art.
“It’s the most advanced solar unit in the state,” says Baptiste, president of LB Electric, a firm he founded in Landing. “It saves NJIT and the taxpayers money while preserving the environment.”
Baptiste delights in explaining the benefits of the unit. An array of 160 solar panels, comprising a 50-kilowatt system, converts sunlight directly into electricity by means of the photovoltaic cells covering each panel.
The panels provide power for the Campus Center, and save the university nearly $30,000 a year in electric bills. NJIT received a $216,000 rebate from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to offset the $504,000 cost of installing the system. The board was so impressed with the installation that it recently held a press conference on the roof to promote the use of solar energy in the state.
The solar roof, Baptiste adds, is also environmentally benign. By reducing the need for electricity from coal-burning power plants, it reduces the amount of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury released into the air — pollutants typically produced when coal fuels power plants.
Baptiste came to NJIT in 1985. He enrolled in the university’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which helps minority students build careers in science and technology. An EOP staff member got him an internship at Nordling, Dean Electric Co., Chatham. He did so well that Nordling hired him part-time while he pursued his degree; that part-time job led to a full-fledged career. After graduating from NJIT in 1991, Baptiste worked at Nordling until 2000, when he formed LB Electric.
Although LB is based in Landing, Baptiste recently opened a second office in NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center, Newark, a business incubator that assists small high-tech companies. In addition to installing the solar roof, LB’s work at NJIT includes interior lighting for the restoration of the university’s oldest building, Eberhardt Hall, and lighting for the renovation of the green in the center of the campus.
As successful as he is, Baptiste hasn’t forgotten how EOP helped him. He is developing an outreach program for EOP students — one that will offer internships and apprenticeships to students. He is also the educational chairman of the Metropolitan Electrical League, in Long Valley, a non-profit group of 300 companies that offers co-op employment and scholarships to NJIT students.
“The staff at EOP gave me advice, direction and mentorship, things all students need,” says Baptiste. “I’ll never forget the help I got at NJIT.”
Installing the solar panels was his way of giving back to NJIT. The system is maintenance-free, he says, and will help NJIT save on its electricity bills for years.
Mike Thompson, plant engineer for NJIT, calls the solar-powered roof a great addition to the campus. “The solar roof saves NJIT money while being environmentally friendly, helping to ward off global warming,” says Thompson. And Moke, the student who sits up on the roof, says the solar roof places NJIT in the forefront of environmental technology — its rightful place. “NJIT is a tech school,” she says, “and it’s right that we should have the best and the cleanest environmental technology. The solar roof makes me proud to be a student here.”