Solar Power on US Campuses Surges 450% in 3 Years

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Graphic courtesy of AASHE

Solar photovoltaic (PV) power installations on university and college campuses have surged 450% over the last three years, according to a new database constructed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

A dramatic 40% fall in the installed cost of solar PV systems and the advent of new financing mechanisms, such as solar leasing, has led administrators to invest in renewable, clean solar power as a way of both hedging against rising future electricity prices and reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints, the the AASHE says.

According to the AASHE Campus Solar Photovoltaic Installations database:

• The 137 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity installed on higher education campuses to date is equivalent to the power used by 40,000 U.S. homes.
• The market in 2010 for on-campus solar installations was over $300 million 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.
• Since 2009, the median project size has grown six fold.
• Only five states installed more solar in 2010 than the 52 MW installed on U.S. campuses in 2010.

AASHE developed and publicly opened the campus solar PV database with the aim of building on the success of solar on US campuses to date. It enables users to browse installations and stories by type, size and location.

Examples include the University of San Diego, where 5,000 solar panels have been installed on 11 campus buildings to provide as much as 15% of the campus’s electricity. The university took advantage of federal and state incentives, negotiating a solar power purchase agreement that has resulted in a below-market cost of electricity obtained at a small upfront cost.

Graphic courtesy of AASHE

In addition to the drop in the installed cost of solar power systems, the median cost per Watt of the electricity being produced by campus solar PV systems has has been falling precipitously — 35% since 2009.

As the AASHE comments, “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.”

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