Solar electric systems have found their way to college campuses, big time! Arizona State University deserves the spotlight with a record 23.6 MW of solar! Rutgers and Mount St. Mary’s hold the second and third solar positions on campus. This is best documented in the AASHE Solar Database sponsored by EcoMotion.
In 2013, there were 35 new campus solar projects installed for a total capacity of 17.6 MW and an average capacity of 533 kW. These included the 2 MW Oregon Institute of Technology system, and another 8,017 kW at Rutgers in New Jersey. New data for 2014 shows 8 new installations, including the 4 MW University of the Virgin Islands array. Visit the AASHE database to see a number of “top 10 lists” that highlight campus accomplishments.
Campuses across America are utilizing rooftops, fields, and parking lots to generate electricity from the sun. Some are using solar to fulfill carbon neutrality pledges, such as Butte College that claims to be “grid positive.” University presidents, facilities staff, professors, students, and alumni are praising the benefits of solar energy. Campuses have become “living labs” for clean technologies. Thanks to the maturation of the solar industry, including; technology, financing mechanisms, and project management, solar on college campuses has grown in leaps and bounds.
In 2012, Princeton University energized its 27-acre, 5.3 MW system. Princeton’s system is made up of 16,500 Sunpower panels, 80% of which are on trackers. The system will supply 5% of the University’s needs, and after 8 years when Princeton takes ownership and retains the SRECs, it will account for 6% of the carbon footprint reduction required to meet the commitment to reach 1990 levels by 2020. Sunpower also offered Princeton employees $2,000 rebates for household installations.
Princeton’s Solar Field utilizes SunPower T0 Trackers
Elementary, middle, and high schools are also benefitting from photovoltaics on campus. Hundreds of schools across the country are benefactors of utility-sponsored solar programs. Under contract with the City of Santa Monica, EcoMotion worked to get solar installed on every elementary school there.
The AASHE solar database is a repository for campus solar systems. Working with its member institutions, and sponsored by EcoMotion, the database has detailed information on 552 solar installations on 326 campuses at colleges and universities in 46 states. In each case, universities and colleges self-report solar system details for the benefit of the AASHE membership.
The total capacity of the 552 installations is 191,577 kilowatts, nearly 192 MW. The average system capacity is 352 kilowatts. Thus far, 155 developers and 169 installation companies have been hired for this work. For colleges and universities, 2011 was a banner year with 44,402 kW installed.
So which states have the most campus solar? California and Arizona with their abundant solar insolation, lead the country with 59.3 MW and 50.5 MW respectively. New Jersey, thanks to its incentive structure, is third with 47.7 MW installed. Maryland and Colorado are fourth and fifth.
In related news, Texas A&M has announced its plan to develop a 50 MW solar field, integrated with its Center for Solar. The University’s aspiration is to be “the premier destination for the study and advance of solar energy.” The $600 million field will be privately financed to generate 100% of campus use, while providing power for an additional 20,000 homes. This campus’s goal to be the world’s largest research center for the evaluation, development, and testing of solar technologies.
Campuses are going solar across the country, in many cases recognizing the opportunity to link solar developments with student education. It’s happening in many ways, from online tools to internships. Initiatives to tie facilities improvements to student life ranges range from kiosks to lectures to full-scale degree programs, to participating in the U.S. DOE Solar Decathlon. In addition to offsetting energy use and carbon, colleges and universities are finding that solar systems provide value at levels above and beyond their power generation.