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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.

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UCLA Students to Open Campus Food Co-op

GOOD Maker finalist, The UCLA Student Collective, is making fresh, local produce available to students along with cooking workshops.

It’s not everyday that a group of students decides to set up a fully-functioning on-campus cooperative market entirely from scratch. But thanks to the power of a simple Facebook post, an organization at UCLA is turning food into an actual business.

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Sharing the Bounty: Dining Hall Swipes as Hunger-Fighting Tool

"Swipes for the Homeless," a nonprofit organization founded at UCLA, has turned dining hall swipes into a means of combating hunger in Los Angeles.

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Come the end of an academic term, dorm-housed and dining hall-nourished college students face the “leftover meal points” dilemma. Because meal plans are usually included in housing contracts, every dining hall swipe for the term—whether used or unused—generally comes out of the individual’s pocket. For those with meals that roll over, the accumulated bounty of swipes can lead to an end-of-term food rush: students spending the last few days of the term milking the most out of their remaining points by going on snack shopping sprees, swiping into dining halls for pure indulgence (i.e. just to grab a ice cream cone), or feeding the hungry masses of upperclassmen eyeing the “free” feasts.—all to prevent those unused swipes from going to waste.
But students at UCLA have a more charitable option. A student group turned nonprofit organization called “Swipes for the Homeless” has found a way to transform leftover meal points into a means of combating hunger in Los Angeles. Undergraduates who live off dining hall food can opt to donate their remaining swipes to hungry people in the neighborhood. Each swipe donated is equivalent to a meal, which includes bottled juice or water, a bow l of noodles, small fruit bowls, granola bars, chips, canned soup, and fruit.

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This Class of Geography Students Found Bin Laden's Hideout Long Before the CIA Ecosystem Geographers Predict Bin Laden's Hideout

A UCLA professor and his class predicted there was an 80 percent chance that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.

Two years ago, a class of UCLA undergrads pretty accurately predicted the the location where Osama Bin Laden was hiding out. The students, working under UCLA geography professors Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew, used geographical theories and GIS software to home in on the world's most wanted fugitive.

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Thirsty Students: Access to Drinking Water is Lacking in Public Schools

America's kids are dehydrated and that could be affecting their academic and physical performance.


Feeling a little parched? Next time you take a trip to your office water cooler or sip from your Sigg bottle, think about all the school children who aren't able to drink water during the school day—not even during their lunch period. The result? America's kids are dehydrated, and it could be affecting their academic and physical performance.

According to the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a mere 15 percent of middle school students consume the minimum six to eight glasses of water a day. Part of the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 says that clean water must be easily available on campus, but that's usually limited to a few fountains for thousands of students. Some teachers discourage consumption of water and other liquids because they don't want students asking to go to the restroom during class time. Students also often skip drinking from the fountain—lines are sometimes long, it's hard to get a good drink of water when someone's behind you hissing, "Hurry up!" and the unfiltered water might taste or smell bad.

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UCLA Student's Anti-Asian YouTube Rant: Do Colleges Need Mandatory Diversity Classes?

UCLA junior Alexandra Wallace's anti Asian rant raises the question—should colleges teach how to work with people from diverse backgrounds?


A UCLA student is in hot water after filming a disturbing anti-Asian rant and posting it online. Last Friday, political science major Alexandra Wallace taped an almost three-minute video called "Asians in the Library," and over the weekend, it went viral on YouTube. In the video she attacks Asian students for everything from talking on their cell phones to having elderly relatives come visit. Although the university has condemned her tirade, the incident raises the question, what should colleges do foster a truly inclusive learning environment and prepare students for a diverse world?

Wallace complains about "these hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every single year," and then bashes them for their so-called bad manners. She demonstrates her "good" American manners by insensitively criticizing Asian students who used the phone after the tsunami hit Japan saying, "I swear they're going through their whole families just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing."

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