Cal Poly, a polytechnic public university located in San Luis Obispo, Calif., has announced completion of a large solar project expected to significantly help the university’s sustainability goals, save millions of dollars, and provide educational opportunities.
The university says the new 18.5-acre solar farm will generate more than 11 million kWh per year – enough to power more than 1,000 homes, or about 25% of Cal Poly’s total needs – and includes more than 16,000 solar panels with a capacity of 4.5 MW-AC.
In addition to the environmental benefits, the energy it produces will provide direct savings of about $10 million on Cal Poly’s utility bills over 20 years and will create “Learn by Doing” opportunities for students. The university partnered with REC Solar, a locally based company founded by Cal Poly graduates and owned by Duke Energy, to design, construct and maintain the solar facility.
The Cal Poly project uses single-axis tracking technology to follow the sun across the sky, producing nearly a third more energy than a stationary system. It was financed by REC Solar via a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Duke Energy Renewables, which allows Cal Poly to purchase energy at a lower rate, without paying any upfront costs for the system construction and maintenance.
The solar farm was designed to maximize academic applications for both students and faculty by creating a solar engineering and microgrid laboratory in the Electrical Engineering building for students to conduct experiments with solar technology in a hands-on environment. A wide variety of solar farm performance data will be continuously measured and made available through a web-based dashboard to aid in solar technology research.
In addition, Cal Poly’s Animal Science program will use the site to research vegetation management practices for utility-scale solar farms by grazing the site with its sheep herd.
“We applaud Cal Poly’s creativity in leveraging the system to inspire research in sustainability for years to come. REC Solar is privileged to be a part of the university’s sustainability journey,” says REC Solar CEO Matt Walz.
REC Solar is partnering with the university to provide funds for student and faculty involvement; help develop curriculum that meets Cal Poly’s sustainability learning objectives and educates future renewable energy professionals; and collaborate on applied research. According to the university, the curriculum will integrate solar PV fundamentals into a variety of science and engineering courses and create new courses for renewable energy system design.
“This is a huge step toward our goal of climate neutrality, and we are very excited about using this new facility to support students’ hands-on learning,” says Dennis Elliot, the university’s director of energy, utilities and sustainability.
As the university explains, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 set groundbreaking goals to cut the state’s greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The 23-campus California State University system, including Cal Poly, chose to go beyond state mandates in its 2014 Sustainability Policy, aiming to reduce its GHG emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the state goal.
For Earth Day 2016, university President Jeffrey D. Armstrong made Cal Poly a Charter Signatory to the Climate Leadership Commitment, establishing a goal to implement clean-energy plans and achieve a net-zero energy status through energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2050. Cal Poly currently has seven LEED-certified projects that represent nearly a third of the campus’ 6 million square feet of building space.