INFRASTRUCTURE

Saving money while the sun shines: Why universities should be investing in solar

SOURCE: Sergey Molchenko/Shutterstock
New report shows 75 percent of university energy needs could be met with solar technology.

Universities looking to save money and boost their sustainability credentials should look to solar power a new report suggests, as institutions can expect to meet up to 75 percent of their energy needs with the latest solar technology.

According to the report, published in IOP Science, educational institutions account for 11 percent of total US building electricity consumption and 14 percent of building floor space. While much research has been done on the potential of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in commercial and even residential use, little is known of the potential in educational facilities.

Estimating the energy consumption of more than 132,000 schools and almost 7,100 higher education institutions across the US, researchers deduced that solar PV in US education buildings could provide 100 TWh of electricity services annually, meeting 75 percent of their current electricity consumption.

The switch to solar would not only save on energy costs – one of the biggest outgoings for universities – but will also improve health by reducing pollutants in the air, the report says.

Climate change and environmental degradation are global problems that universities are increasingly tackling on a local level with a growing number leading by example and making the switch to renewable.

While electricity bills and energy consumption may seem like a lot in just a single household, universities – with their 24-hour computer labs and thousand-man dormitories – are colossal consumers of energy. The sometimes frivolous use of electricity by students and campus services alike has caused educational institutes to contribute approximately four percent of total US carbon dioxide emissions.

To curb the problem and tackle mounting costs, universities are investing more than ever in renewable technologies. Just last week Washington University in St. Louis began construction on a US$3.5 million solar energy project that will add rooftop solar photovoltaic arrays to six university buildings.

Last month, Florida A&M University teamed up with Duke Energy Florida to build a solar energy plant covering between 600 and 800 acres of property, and consisting of about 270,000 photovoltaic panels.

Solar is an integral part of University of Hawaii’s ambitious plans to achieve net zero energy use by 2035.

Not only does solar investment lower costs in the long run and improve the health of students, it can also present a fantastic learning opportunity.

Many universities that have installed a solar project go on to use it for STEM-related case studies for students, teaching them how to track energy data and understanding how weather and the angle of the sun affects the panels.

The benefits are plentiful, making solar energy an obvious choice for universities and also a great time to be a solar contractor.