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Higher Education Quick to Install Solar Power Amid Energy Efficiency Lessons
Empowered and inspired by the myriad benefits of solar power, universities and college campuses have utilized solar power aggressively to both reduce their costs and educate students.
The Clean Energy Authority reported on data collected by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education regarding solar installations on college campuses, revealing the amount of installed solar capacity at institutions of higher education increased by 450 percent between 2008 and 2011. Subsequently, more than 52 megawatts of solar capacity was installed on college campuses across the country in 2010. That feat was exceeded by just five states, including California, New Jersey, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada.
"While our old static list was useful, we wanted to be able to manage the data," said Niles Barnes, project coordinator for the AASHE. "We knew [solar installations] had been growing. Anecdotally, we had all this evidence. But it wasn't until we were really analyzing the data that we saw how much it was growing."
In order to make the data usable, the AASHE compiled data regarding each individual installation into a database that can break the data down so it can be analyzed and easily accessed. Thus far, more than 137 megawatts of solar power capacity - enough electricity to power 400,000 homes - has been installed on college campuses. In 2010, such installations made up 5.4 percent of the overall 956 megawatts of installed solar in the U.S., a slice of the solar market that was valued at $300 million.
The AASHE attributes the increase in solar installations to the greater number and availability of solar financing mechanisms, such as power purchase agreements and solar leasing, as well as the 40 percent decline in solar module costs. With the climate challenges of greenhouse gas emissions and the rising cost of fossil-fuel generated electricity, many universities perceive solar power as a means of security and an investment in a stable energy future.
With one of the nation's top solar generation capacities, New Jersey's Cap May County's Atlantic Cape Community College is hard at work installing a large solar installation that will be split between the Cape May and the Mays Landing campuses, and will involve a solar carport. The Mays Landing campus will be home to nearly 80 percent of the arrays for the 2.2 megawatt project, as reported by Shore News Today.
"The solar energy initiative at Atlantic Cape is an excellent example of using innovative strategies to promote energy sustainability as a key step in fulfilling our institutional commitment to environmental stewardship in two counties," Peter Mora, president of the college, said in a prepared statement.
As a result of a power purchase agreement, the college does not need to pay any of the upfront costs of the array. Consequently, it has agreed to purchase power at 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 15 years. The college stands to save $160,000 during the first year alone, with projections reaching as high as $1.6 million by the end of the agreement. The university currently pays 9.3 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity.
The solar canopy itself - a carport sitting over the school's parking lot located on South Dennis Road and Court House - has been custom built to house the solar arrays.
"The steel canopy structures supporting the solar panels will be made of recycled metals enhancing the overall positive environmental impact of the project," said Hugh McCaffrey, president of Southern New Jersey Steel Co. "Furthermore, the project will provide a powerful economic boost by creating and maintaining jobs at our company and for other local construction tradesmen that serve our currently distressed industry,"
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