Our Antiquated Building Stock Holds Huge Opportunity for Energy Conservation

I am a firm believer in the ingenuity of the human race and energy is a case in point.

Throughout my final semester as an undergraduate, I decided to partner with Focus the Nation to implement clean energy initiatives. I secured over $200,000 for a multi-phase solar photovoltaic project at the University of Utah, and the majority of these funds were derived from student fees, which in itself, highlights the importance my generation is placing on clean, green tech.

Keep Reading

Empowering a Community Through Public Solar Initiatives

Collaborating to create a community energy project.

I have been part of the Delta Energy Club at Columbia Gorge Community College for a year and a half now, while obtaining my Renewable Energy Technology AAS. My predecessor and former Delta Energy Club President, Bob Calvert along with other motivated Renewable Energy Technology students, formed the Delta Energy Club (DEC) almost three years ago. The Club aims to encourage renewable energy and sustainable design through informing local community members of alternatives to current energy models. In turn, we get a hands-on education in navigating local and regional bureaucracy.

Keep Reading

Beyond Tax Incentives: How to Make Solar Attractive to Universities

Grad Student Tackles Solar PV Financing in Higher Ed

Like the rest of Los Angeles, UCLA has plenty of buildings and gets plenty of sun. Given the University’s interest in sustainability and innovation, you’d think all those buildings would be covered with high-tech solar panels sucking up all that sun. However, UCLA has only one installation, on one rooftop, which generates only two percent of the building’s power supply. The reason behind the dim figures? Price.

The government incentives—rebates, tax credits, bonds, and loans— that make solar photovoltaic systems affordable to businesses and homeowners are for the most part unavailable to institutions of higher education like UCLA. The majority of financial incentives are available in the form of tax credits. Most institutions of higher education, including UCLA, are tax exempt, which makes tax rebates meaningless for them. Without incentives, UCLA and other institutions are often forced to pay upfront installation costs, about 30 percent more per unit than the current price to private consumers.

The sticker shock is understandable, but it’s not all bad news. There are several potential opportunities to help institutions including UCLA drive down the cost of solar PV and expand solar power on campus.

Alternative financing: Colleges and universities across the country are creating new ways to fill the gap left by unavailable government incentives. So far, green revolving funds and student “green fees” appear to be two of the most effective ways universities are closing the price gap.

Purchasing power: Large institutions such as colleges and universities are powerful customers. If these competitive organizations can set aside their differences to invest in solar collaboratively, they could use their massive purchasing power to drive down cost through economies of scale and increased negotiating power with solar PV manufacturers. Working together also allows schools to spread the risk, as well as share in the savings.

Rethink how solar fits into university plans: Even though most institutions of higher education exist in perpetuity, they tend to plan for the short-term. Most schools’ master plans only account for four years. In any four-year window an investment in solar is a huge expenditure, and this short-term view does not take into account the benefit of reduced energy bills over the longer term. Even if spending $10,000 on a system now could save $50,000 dollars over the next 10 years, the net gain is invisible to school budget officers.

I am working in partnership with Focus the Nation and the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, to better understand the barriers that put solar PV out of reach at UCLA and to explore ways to change that through better financing, cooperation and planning. Whether or not UCLA ultimately decides to go with increased solar power, this research will make it easier for all colleges and universities to access solar PV. You can find out more about the research at Focus the Nation’s project page.

Keep Reading

Two-Mile Solar Tunnel Powers Rail Between Paris and Amsterdam

This incredible 16,000-panel solar array on top of a Paris to Amsterdam rail line powers half of the big Antwerp train station nearby.

Oftentimes, the toughest part about introducing new renewable energy projects is finding the right site to install them. Society still often regards wind turbines as eyesores, and many still prefer a slate roof to one covered with photovoltaics.

But in Belgium, there's a new massive solar installation that even the toughest NIMBY neighbor would have a hard time criticizing.

Keep Reading