U.S. Higher Education Solar Capacity Leaps 450 percent in 3 Years
We are pleased to announce that today AASHE has launched a new Campus Solar Photovoltaic Installations Database that provides technical details on hundreds of on-campus solar pv projects, giving a clearer picture of higher education's adoption of solar pv technology than has previously been possible. The database reveals dramatically accelerating deployment of on-campus solar pv in recent years, including dozens of megawatt scale arrays installed as part of institutions' overall strategy to insulate themselves from ever-increasing utility rates while simultaneously reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
[Update 10/19/11 - See end of blog post]
In this Article
Findings and Charts
A key finding revealed by the database is that installed solar capacity has grown 450 percent over the last three years in the higher education sector, as institutions have taken advantage of dropping solar prices, state and federal incentives and innovative financing mechanisms:
The median project size has soared six fold since 2009 as institutions have increasingly been deploying solar pv arrays that are large enough to provide a significant portion of their overall electricity needs:
Two examples of this trend are University of San Diego and Butte College. In its first on-campus solar deployment, USD took advantage in 2010 of federal and state incentives through a Solar Power Purchase Agreement to install 5,000 panels on 11 campus buildings, providing up to 15 percent of the campus’ electricity at below market rates and with little upfront cost. Butte College completed its third and largest solar array in 2011, making it the first institution in the US to generate more electricity from solar than it uses. Butte's President, Diane Van Der Ploeg, explained in a June 2011 AASHE blog article how Butte got to "grid positive" and why it was a wise investment for the institution, generating an estimated $50-$75 million for academic programming while establishing Butte as a leader and model for others.
The addition of larger projects to the higher education solar base has produced significant annual additions to higher education's installed capacity, with more growth on the horizon:
As one might expect, the increasing economies of scale and falling price of solar pv modules in recent years have brought down the median cost per Watt of higher ed installations. The magnitude of the decline, however, is a breathtaking 35% since 2009. Any institution that might have ruled out a solar system in 2009 because it didn't "pencil out" might want to sharpen their pencils and reexamine the business case in light of today's pv prices.
Institutions have been taking advantage of the dropping cost per Watt by installing larger systems. That means higher education's contribution to the green economy and green jobs creation via solar purchases is on the rise:
Other interesting revelations made possible by the database include:
The 137 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity installed on higher education campuses to date is equivalent to the power used by 40,000 homes in the U.S.
Higher education solar installations in 2010 made up 5.4 percent of the total 956 MW installed that year in the U.S.
- Only five states installed more solar in 2010 than the 52 MW installed on U.S. campuses in 2010. (It could be fewer states if the higher ed installations in those 5 states were backed out of their state's totals.)
- 30 out of the 45 largest higher education installations are on AASHE Member campuses
- 64% of the campuses with solar installations are AASHE members
Design and Goals of the Database
AASHE's goal in creating this database is to drive further solar development on higher education campuses. In order to do that, we examined common barriers to the successful implementation of solar pv projects on campuses and designed the database to address them. In order to address several significant barriers, AASHE recruited the sponsorship and participation of AMSOLAR, a San Diego-based developer of solar projects that specializes in solar projects at educational institutions nationwide.
- Belief Barrier - The dynamically generated Top Ten Lists that show the largest projects in a number of categories are designed to raise expectations for what is possible in a variety of settings.
- Availability of Information - AMSOLAR's sponsorship of the database has allowed us to make the treasure-trove of data contained in it free and available to everyone, not just AASHE members.
- Identifying Peer Models - Many institutional decision-makers want to see that one or more peer institutions have experienced success deploying solar before green-lighting a solar RFP for their own campus. The database makes it easy for campus solar advocates to browse or search for institutions in their region or of similar type.
- Early Technical Guidance - Evaluating the solar potential of a campus can be a complex process of weighing sites and technologies. As part of its sponsorship, AMSOLAR has agreed to serve as a technical resource, fielding questions from the campus sustainability community.
- Making the Business Case - The database contains specific details about the cost, financing mechanisms and annual savings associated with a given project. While this can be helpful in understanding recent and more distant market conditions and trends, evaluating current market trends in a given region, identifying state and federal incentives and understanding the various financing mechanisms commonly used for solar projects in higher education can be tricky. As part of its sponsorship, AMSOLAR has agreed to serve as a resource on these types of questions as well.
We hope that our careful planning to address common barriers to the implementation of solar projects will result in this database being a tool for action as well as analysis and that no viable solar project will die on the vine for lack of information.
How to Contribute to the Project
Check Your Institution's Database Records
If your institution has one or more solar arrays, check to see that they are correctly listed with complete information. Anyone can submit an update for a listing by clicking the "Update this Information" link on an installation's detail page in the database. If you know of an installation that is missing from the database altogether, please submit it via our Add a Solar Installation form. All submissions are reviewed by AASHE staff before going live.
Conduct Additional Analysis
There are more additional ways to analyze the data in the Campus Solar Photovoltaic Installations Database than we had the capacity to do here. We are interested in finding a partner in higher education that would like to take the analysis closer to the level of sophistication found in the Tracking the Sun reports produced by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. If you are a student and would like to make it your senior thesis or a graduate school project, or you are a faculty member and would like to make it a class project, please contact us at email@example.com.
If you conduct and publish any analysis based on data drawn from the database, please let us know about it. We may link to it from the database or tweet it.
Help Document Higher Ed Installations Outside the US
Users of the database today will notice that there are only a handful of installations documented outside of the US. We would like the database to better reflect solar installations at higher institutions around the world. We will be putting out a call for participation in the Global Edition of the AASHE Bulletin, but we would appreciate your assistance spreading the word as well.
This database would not have been possible without the hard work and contributions of a number of people outside of AASHE. First, we'd like to thank the hundreds of campus and solar industry contacts that responded to our request for detailed information about their on-campus projects. AASHE would like to thank John Whitney of the Clean Energy Action Project for his help compiling the data. (And we'd like to wish him a happy birthday!) Finally, thanks to AMSOLAR for enabling the database to be made available to all for free and for their on-going support as a technical resource to the campus sustainability community.
Update: Ater the launch of the database, it was brought to our attention that two large installations (>1 MW) which were originally credited as being installed in 2011 are in fact not completed and will not be until sometime in 2012. Part of the utility in allowing user contributions and edits to the database is corrections such as this can be easily made and implemented quickly. While AASHE strives to ensure accuracy, the data is partially dependent on the information we receive from campuses and the input and suggestions from our users. You can view the latest statistics on the database site here.
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