Campus Launches Construction on Sweeping Sustainable
Energy Program as Part of Goal to Be ‘Greenest University’ in Nation
Jim Gogek | July 21, 2008
Workers from Borrego Solar, Inc., a national solar power contractor based in El Cajon, Calif., install the first solar photovoltaic panels on the East Campus Utility Plant at UC San Diego. Solar panels are going up on buildings and parking garages across the 1,200-acre campus as part of one of the largest sustainable energy generation programs on a university campus.
UC San Diego further bolstered its reputation as one of the nation’s greenest college campuses recently when it began construction on its sustainable energy program—one of the largest such programs in the nation by a university.
Earlier this month, a crane pulled up to the East Campus Utility Plant next to the Shiley Eye Center and hoisted the first solar photovoltaic panels up to the rooftop, where workers from Borrego Solar, Inc., one of UCSD’s partners in the landmark project, began bolting them onto metal frames. By the next day, the flat gray roof of the building was transformed into a futuristic phalanx of monolithic glossy panels absorbing the sunlight.
Soon, buildings across the campus—including RIMAC, the Price Center and Gilman Parking Structure—will look the same. Eventually, solar arrays will be the norm for UC San Diego rooftops.
The campus' far-reaching green energy program, which also includes biogas fuel cells and wind energy, will eventually produce 29 million kilowatt hours a year, which is enough to provide electricity for more than 4,500 homes and remove an equivalent of 10,500 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. That’s the equivalent of removing 1,500 cars a year from the roads.
“This photovoltaic installation marks an historic event for a campus that has become a living laboratory for climate change solutions,” said Steve Relyea, Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs. “Our sustainable energy program is the result of a campuswide commitment by students, faculty and administration to advance environmental sustainability on a local, national and global level.”
Across the campus, collaborative efforts result in a multitude of research, academic and operations projects that make UC San Diego a world leader in climate change solutions. Symbolizing the university ’s status as one of the greenest universities, the campus this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Keeling Curve, the first measurement of greenhouse gas build-up, which was conducted by Charles David Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. This event is lauded by many as the beginning of modern climate change science. Now, the university will soon generate 7.4 megawatts of green energy, providing 10 to 15 percent of its annual electrical needs. By using green energy, UC San Diego is cutting its use of greenhouse gas-generating fossil fuels that are warming the planet and polluting the air we breathe.
Researchers and students also are working on a wide range of environmental sustainability projects, including developing biofuels from algae and wood debris. Planners design green dorms with automatic sun shading to save energy and drainage systems that stop all storm runoff from flowing into the nearby ocean. Students and fleet managers have begun a biofuel shuttle bus line, which decreases UC San Diego’s reliance on greenhouse gas-generating fossil fuels. The world’s top climate change researchers and post-docs discover the impact of Asian brown cloud pollution of global climate and of rising temperatures on the western U.S. water supply.
UC San Diego’s green energy program will continue to unfold over the next year, as the first megawatt of solar photovoltaic panels is constructed and a second megawatt is planned and implemented.
In addition to the current and immediate impact, UC San Diego will produce another 2.4 megawatts from fuel cells powered by renewable methane. The methane fuel will be transported to UC San Diego from the Point Loma sewage treatment plant, where it is produced. Construction begins this fall. Not only does this produce green energy that replaces carbon-based energy, but it also removes pollutants from local air, since the methane is currently flared into the atmosphere at the sewage plant.
UC San Diego also will begin a unique program to swap fossil fuel-generated energy for wind power. The university will throttle back its natural gas-powered cogeneration plant at night and replace the power with electricity purchased from California wind farms. This program, the first of its kind in California, will generate up to 3 megawatts of green energy.
The solar photovoltaic and biogas fuel cell construction projects are cost-free for the university. UC San Diego has negotiated power purchase agreements, in which investors construct, install and maintain the photovoltaic panels and fuel cells on campus property, and the university then buys the power from investors through long-term contracts.
The university has teamed up with local, national and international companies on its sustainable energy project. Three partners are working with the university on the solar photovoltaic project. Borrego Solar, Inc., a national solar power contractor based in El Cajon, Calif., is the installer; Envision Solar, Inc., of San Diego, designer of the solar “trees” that will be built on top of UC San Diego parking structures, also is involved. Solar Power Partners (SPP™), Inc., of Mill Valley, Calif., is the financier and owner of the solar photovoltaic arrays. The biogas fuel cells are financed, constructed and owned by The Linde Group, an international industrial gases and engineering company.