Colleges Going Solar in a Big Way

Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations on college campuses have increased 450% in the last three years to 137 megawatts (MW) according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Although 137 MW isn’t a huge amount of solar, it’s trending strongly up. In 2010, the market for on-campus solar  was over $300 million in the U.S., taking a 5.4% share of of the US total of 956 MW.

Since 2009, the median project size has grown six fold. Only five states installed more solar in 2010 than the 52 MW installed on U.S. campuses.

The group created a database that shows hundreds of campus solar PV installations across the US.

AASHE attributes the dramatically accelerating deployment of on-campus solar PV to the dropping costs of solar (40% lower  over the last four years), as well as new financing mechanisms that make it even more affordable. Campuses are deploying solar as a hedge against rising electricity prices while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Take the University of San Diego, for example. It took advantage of federal and state incentives through a Solar Power Purchase Agreement, installing 5,000 panels on 11 campus buildings. The University now derives up to 15% of its electricity from solar, at below market rates and with little upfront cost.

Another success story is Butte College, near Sacramento, California, which earlier this year announced it is the first college in the US to be ‘grid positive’. "By May 2011, Butte will become the first and only school in the US to derive over 100 percent of its energy from renewable solar energy."

AASHE created the database in collaboration with AMSOLAR, a San Diego-based solar developer for educational institutions. In 2010, AMSOLAR partnered with GCL Solar Energy to build a 1.2-MW solar system at University of San Diego.

"AMSOLAR has agreed to serve as a technical resource, fielding questions from the campus sustainability community," says Paul Rowland, executive director of AASHE. "We think that is critical, because nobody knows the ins and outs of designing, installing and financing solar projects like professionals in the industry."

"If an institution is planning for the next 50 years, solar allows them to stabilize utility costs while providing an invaluable tool to educate their students about the benefits of renewable energy," says Jared Quient, vice president of project development for AMSOLAR.

Here’s the database:

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