Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Solar Switch

On October 27, 2009, Rutgers University's President Richard McCormick announced the offical opening of the university's newest facility - a farm. There were no clients, customers, farmers, or students lined up at the gates when it opened. It did not produce crops or house cows and pigs. This giant farm has only one job: to harness energy from the sun.

The Livingston solar farm spans across more than 7 acres of the Northeast corner of the campus. More than 7,500 panels are mounted to the ground collecting sunlight. They produce 1.4 megawatts of energy, which accounts for more than $200,000 of the university’s $60 million energy bill. According to Antonio Calcado, the panels currently power roughly ten percent of the Livingston campus.

On November 4, the newest Memorandum of Understanding was released to the public by the EPA. The report shows the university's total carbon reduction and cost savings in the past two years from its current solar operations. According to this report, Rutgers University so far saved 3,115.5 metric tons of carbon and $423,957. This is the equivalent to taking 155 vehicles that drive 12,000 miles each year off of the road!

Image Credit: Rutgers Facilities Website

In the two years that have passed since Rutgers’ first solar farm began operations, the university and the environment benefitted to a noticeable degree. The university consistently reported that there were major savings in energy costs and carbon output. The success of the solar farm inspired Rutgers University to undertake another solar project. “We’re building a solar canopy over a new parking deck that’s going up. It’s being built right now near the new dorms at Livingston,” said Calcado.

“We searched for opportunities like the solar canopy project after how fast we saw the benefits from the solar farm. We’re working toward becoming truly energy efficient,” said Michael Kornitas. The new solar canopy will more than quadruple the size of the solar farm. 32 acres of more than 40,000 solar panels will be constructed over the new parking deck at Livingston, with an annual savings of $1.2 million. The system will generate more than 8 megawatts of energy – enough to power close to 1,000 households each year. “When all is said and done,” Kornitas said, “Livingston campus will be powered by at least 60 percent solar energy.”

The combined cost of the two solar projects is roughly $50 million. Half of the costs of these solar projects were paid for by financial partners and tax incentives. The final cost to Rutgers for both the solar farm and the solar canopy amounts to approximately $25 million.

The university profits from selling Solar Renewable Energy credits, which are certificates of clean energy that are purchased by a number of different electric companies. Combined with the $1.5 million the university saves annually from using solar energy to power Livingston campus, Kornitas expects that after 20 years Rutgers will have profited by more than by close to $30 million after repaying the initial costs of both projects.

“We’re significantly reducing our carbon footprint at Rutgers,” said Calcado. “We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do. We don’t plan to stop until we’ve done everything we can to become as sustainable as possible.”

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