University of California Makes Big Commitment to Solar

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The University of California’s motto is “Let there be light.” The school is living up to this sentiment with a major commitment to solar power. UC announced this week that it will make the largest solar energy purchase by any higher education institution in the U.S. The university will purchase the electricity generated by 80 MW of solar.

UC signed two Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with solar provider Frontier Renewables. Under the agreements, UC will purchase solar energy for 25 years, and will supply 206,000 MWh of solar energy each year to California’s electric grid.

The agreements are major components of the University of California’s sustainability initiative, announced in November 2013. The goal is to make UC the first research university to become carbon neutral by 2025.

“As a national leader in sustainability, the University of California is taking on bold, new goals and transforming our approach to procuring and using energy in more sustainable ways,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “Our partnership with Frontier Renewables will ensure that UC has a steady supply of cost-effective, climate-neutral electricity.”

Earlier this year, UC became a registered Electric Service Provide. Under direct access rules, that lets the university’s Wholesale Power Program supply electric power to a number of campuses. Power will go to UC Irvine and its medical center, UC Merced, UC San Diego and its medical center, UC San Francisco and its medical center, and UC Santa Cruz.

These campuses will be getting 60% of their energy from renewables.

Additional power will go to UC Davis, which is served by Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).

The projects will get power from two solar fields in Fresno County. Construction is expected to end in late 2016, and the projects are scheduled to come online by the end of 2016.

“By investing in the development of renewable energy sources like these, UC is doing its part to increase the supply of green energy available for use across California,” Napolitano said.

The project has further benefits. It allows Frontier Renewables to consider education partnerships with UC researchers and students, such as research access to solar fields, the creation of a field station on the project site, internships, technology testing, and curriculum development.

In addition to system-wide efforts to achieve carbon neutrality, each UC campus is working toward its own sustainability goals. Across the university’s 10 campuses, 11.4 MW of solar PV technology has been installed, with an additional 22.9 MW of solar PV planned or in construction within the upcoming year.

Calling it a win for both the economy and the environment, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), applauded UC’s decision.

“As part of the ongoing fight against climate change, the University of California is leading by example,” Resch said. “When completed, this exciting project is expected to offset about 60 percent of the electricity used each day at half of the state’s 10 campuses. This is a significant step forward…. We commend the University of California for its commitment to the environment – and for doing the right thing.”