The Elting Gymnasium at SUNY New Paltz can now double as an emergency shelter because of hundreds of solar panels on the gym's roof and a battery storage system outside.

The building can have power when the lights go out everywhere else on campus.

"These thousand-year events are occuring with great regularity," Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said at an event to celebrate completion of the new project. "It is so important to build resiliency into the resources we have. That is exactly the kind of creative genius behind what we have done here on this campus."

Increased resiliency is just one of the potential benefits. Supplementing power from the traditional grid with solar is expected to save SUNY New Paltz $26,000 per year in annual energy costs, savings which could grow as research continues.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is the research opportunities. Officials said the university chipped in $320,000 of the $1.4 million needed to complete the project, leaving the university with an important (and more affordable) opportunity to teach and discover.

SUNY New Paltz Energy Management Coordinator Brian Pine said that over the next year, the university is going to use this project to research the achilles heel of the solar energy industry -- battery technology.

Pine said improved batteries will eventually make solar a main power source for more homes, businesses and even cars.

"That's the exciting part about this kind of a project," Pine said. " ... To see how long the batteries last, under what kind of load conditions, and the quality of the batteries. Hopefully battery technology will develop better and better."

Pine said SUNY New Paltz is already in discussions with other SUNY schools about possibly building a much larger solar panel array in upstate New York.