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A Look at California's Most Sustainable Universities

Wednesday, September 5th 2012 11:47 AM
By GetSolar Staff.
A Look at California's Most Sustainable Universities California leads the nation in total number of solar power installations and in total photovoltaic energy capacity, so it should come as no surprise that the state's universities are among the leaders in the field of green energy research. The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, recently published its list of the greenest colleges in America. Three of the top 10 universities listed were located in California, more than any other state.

Solar energy is playing a big role in all of these schools' environmental initiatives, from providing clean power to conducting cutting-edge research.

The Nation's Top Eco-Friendly School
The University of California, Davis made the top spot in the Sierra Club's list, and uses solar energy to power a number of its buildings on campus. According to UC Davis Today, the university has at least seven locations with solar panels, adding to a total capacity of 1.1 million kilowatt-hours a year.

Some examples of projects put in by California solar installers on campus include 2,400 panels over two different parking lots and a 102-kilowatt installation on the rooftop of its graduate management school, according to UC Davis. That power system, atop Gallagher Hall, is expected to produce about 144,000 kWh of electricity a year, meeting 20 percent of the facility's total energy needs.

UC Davis does more than use photovoltaic power to meet its own energy needs, the college also pioneers research to improve the clean energy source. According to UC Davis News and Research, teams at the school have developed new chemical forms of silver that can make PV cells more efficient and silicon-based nanoparticles that emit more electricity from sunlight than traditional photovoltaic materials.

"So often, we hear that higher education has a responsibility to tackle various societal issues, such as sustainability, because colleges and universities teach and train people," Camille Kirk, the university's sustainability planner, said to TreeHugger. "That's true! ... Universities generate new knowledge and new technologies, and share that information and innovation with their students and the rest of society."

America's Most Sustainable Private University
Stanford University, located outside Palo Alto, was not only the top private university on the Sierra Club's list, but it was also placed as the third most eco-friendly college in the country. The university's campus houses three photovoltaic arrays with a combined capacity of 60 kilowatts, according to Stanford's Sustainability and Energy Management Department.

The projects "familiarize faculty, staff and students with the day-to-day operation of solar technologies, as well as help us gather data on performance and determine how the control and monitoring systems can be optimized," according to Sustainable Stanford.

A 30-kilowatt California solar installation located at Reservoir Two is the largest PV project on campus. According to the Sustainability and Energy Management and the university, the power system features more than 200 PV panels and can produce 51,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

On top of its installations, Stanford has also strived to conduct research into solar power and other renewable energy resources. For example, the engineering department earlier this year developed microscopic shells to help panels better capture and retain PV energy. Stanford researchers have even developed a sun-powered robot to better track sharks, ABC News reported.

"We believe that Stanford is uniquely positioned to change our nation's attitudes and capability as it concerns energy," said Thomas Steyer, a member of the school's board of trustees, according to Stanford University News. "What our university did for the information revolution, it must now do for the energy revolution." 

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