Sustainability/Business Continuity

Shining a Light on Universities Adopting Solar Energy

Universities across the country are embracing solar energy to help power their campuses, become more sustainable, and save money. Proving that point, here are three major announcements U.S. universities made in late May alone.

Brigham Young University–Hawaii

Brigham Young University–Hawaii announced completion of a campus-wide renewable energy system that includes rooftop solar, carport solar, and battery energy storage.

The estimated annual electricity production of the entire project will be 6.37 MWh—enough to meet an estimated 39% of the university’s energy needs each year.

Courtesy: Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions

“This project has made BYU–Hawaii more eco-friendly and reduced our environmental impact,” said Kevin Schlag, the university’s operations vice president. “The combination of solar and battery storage is a smart solution that will allow us to support our students and their education more sustainably by potentially saving the university over $20 million in utility costs over the system’s life.”

Located on 100 acres in Laie on the island of Oahu, the university’s renewable energy project consists of three rooftop solar installations, five solar carports throughout the campus, including its main parking lot, and 7,324.8 kWh of battery storage containing Tesla Megapacks.

Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions, a nonregulated commercial brand of Duke Energy, designed and constructed the project.

“Now more than ever, universities, companies, and municipalities are powering their infrastructure using renewable energy to ensure sustainability and reduce carbon emissions,” said Chris Fallon, president of Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions.

The university financed the project through a 20-year power purchase agreement with Duke.

New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University’s largest source of renewable energy—a 3 MW solar and battery energy storage installation called Aggie Power—has started generating power for NMSU’s Las Cruces campus, marking a milestone nearly four years in the making.

Aggie Power is one of three energy sources now powering NMSU’s 900-acre main campus, producing enough solar electricity to meet about a third of the university’s electrical needs. It also serves as a living laboratory for NMSU students and faculty in electrical engineering.

“This is truly a cause for celebration,” NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said. “We are fortunate to have so many talented individuals who helped make this project a success. It’s because of their efforts that this project will now benefit our university and our region for many, many years to come.”

Aggie Power, built on a 29-acre parcel on NMSU’s Arrowhead Park, is part of a collaboration between NMSU and utility El Paso Electric (EPE) to advance mutual goals on renewable energy, climate change action, and microgrid development.

NMSU photo by Josh Bachman

NMSU and EPE outlined the details of Aggie Power in a memorandum of understanding signed in 2018. After a review and approval process by the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission, NMSU and EPE signed their final rate agreement and land-lease documents, allowing construction on Aggie Power to begin in December 2020. 

Under the agreements, EPE will operate Aggie Power for the next 30 years, and NMSU has agreed to buy power generated from the facility over that period. 

“This is a proud moment for both NMSU and El Paso Electric,” EPE President and CEO Kelly A. Tomblin said. “Aggie Power proves that powerful partnerships are possible and needed to optimize our natural resources, our talent, our innovation, and our region’s growth potential.”

The site consists of 10,000 solar panels, a 3 MW solar photovoltaic array, and a 1 MW/4MWh battery energy storage system. Research operations at Aggie Power are on track to start by this fall, bringing new hands-on training opportunities for students and faculty.

“NMSU has a long-standing reputation as a leader in solar energy and development of microgrid systems,” said Wayne Savage, director of NMSU’s Arrowhead Park. “This project builds on that foundation and will provide significant learning opportunities for El Paso Electric and NMSU as we support our state’s commitment to a fully renewable future.”

Aggie Power is one of several solar power projects on NMSU’s Las Cruces and aligns with the university’s long-term commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. 

NMSU has joined international efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050. The university has decreased its carbon emissions by 61% since 2007, according to Second Nature and the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute, which track carbon emissions of entities that have signed the Race to Zero global initiative.

Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University (W&L) in Virginia has inked a deal to buy enough solar power to match 100% of its annual electricity consumption.

The university entered into a virtual power purchase agreement with SunEnergy1, a developer that will build, own, and operate a 17 MW off-site solar farm. W&L will buy 11 MW from the project to offset all campus electricity use.

“This project represents a huge step forward, creating new solar capacity in a way that advances renewable energy in our region, not just on our campus,” said Jane Stewart, W&L’s director of sustainability. “Meeting climate-related challenges requires us to widen our perspective and think about systems and solutions in a new way.” 

According to the university, this deal will help W&L slash its greenhouse gas emissions, close in on its carbon neutrality goal, and cut energy costs. More details are available here.