Student tour guides at Santa Clara University often brag to prospective students about Silicon Valley’s 300-plus days of sunshine each year. School officials hoping to capitalize on that climatic characteristic recently gave the green light to installing new photovoltaic arrays on several university structures. The project is just another step in Santa Clara’s efforts to become climate neutral by the end of 2015.
The university is no stranger to solar. A 50-kilowatt photovoltaic system installed atop the main facilities building in 2007 is one of the largest renewable energy producers on campus. It is estimated that the 338-panel array reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 5,880 metric tons per year.
Santa Clara also gained notoriety in the field of solar power three years ago and again last year with consecutive third-place finishes in the national Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The new project represents the university’s biggest push to locally harvest renewable energy. Construction crews spent an especially rainy winter this year mounting the new solar panels on rooftops of the Leavey Center, Pat Malley Fitness and Recreation Center and an adjacent parking structure. The array will eventually produce one megawatt-hours of energy for the university, enough to power 500 homes a year. Santa Clara will use the panels to cover six percent of its typical electrical energy needs during the academic year and up to 20 percent of the summer daytime electricity demand, when days are longer and more energy is needed to cool campus buildings.
Panels on the third floor of the parking structure have the added benefit of providing shade to cars in the daytime.
Solar is one of several clean sources folded into Santa Clara’s energy portfolio. The university also purchases 22,512 megawatt-hours of wind-produced energy from its electric utility, Silicon Valley Power. Plans to pilot geothermal energy on campus this summer will be another addition to Santa Clara’s Smart Micro-Grid initiative, which aims to reduce energy demand and improve its reliability via intelligent control systems and local sources.
Electricians are currently wrapping up work on final components that will transform the raw electrical current produced by the newest panels into usable energy.
To learn more about the university’s renewable energy sources, visit the University Operations web site.
Check back with the Office of Sustainability in the coming weeks for a web page with more information on the recent solar installation.
By Chris Woodhouse, '10, Sustainability Intern