By Cody Ulm, Arizona State University
For many prospective male students, the lure of Arizona State includes two Ws: women and weather.
But what about the 14 other (mega) Ws that make the university a desirable landing spot? Not following? Well, that’s understandable, as few know about the 14 megawatt capacity produced by the 59,085 solar panels across ASU’s four campuses.
“College students have busy lives and the energy efficiency of buildings that they use isn’t necessarily a point of high interest for them,” said Nick Brown, director of University Sustainability Practices. “[Solar energy] ultimately reduces the cost of your tuition and it creates a few more jobs at the university but … few people know of this success.”
And success is putting it mildly. Currently, Arizona State’s Tempe campus holds the distinction of having the largest solar energy capacity of any single university campus in the U.S. — and campus officials aren’t stopping there.
By mid-March of 2012, the university expects to own the largest solar portfolio of any U.S. university across its four campuses. ASU also envisions being entirely carbon neutral by 2035, according to Morgan Olsen, the university’s executive vice president.
That prediction may seem far-fetched, but the rate at which current projects are coming together makes the impossible look realistic.
“When we kicked off this initiative in 2007, we anticipated that we could achieve five to seven megawatts and that it would take three to five years to do it,” said David Brixen, ASU’s associate vice president for facilities development and management. “Well, here we are in 2012 and we have installed more than 14 megawatts.”
“Our energy use is down 20 percent per student over the past four years,” said Brown. “We’ll be carbon neutral by 2035.”
In reality, Brown’s bold estimation might be advice the rest of the state should follow. The Arizona Public Service, ASU’s energy service provider, predicts electricity rates to rise 40 percent over the next half a decade primarily due to the fluctuating prices of fossil fuels. So with Arizona featuring more than 300 sunny days per year, why isn’t everyone making a commitment towards renewable energy and carbon neutrality?
Two reasons: space and economics.
“Our goal is to exceed 20 megawatts, but we don’t have firm plans yet on how to achieve that,” Brixen said. “We are looking for opportunities though, so I believe we will get there.”
An example of one of those opportunities is the 24-foot-high, 5.25-acre spectacle that covers 800 parking spaces in lot 59. Besides providing some much-needed shade, the cleverly christened PowerParasol also generates 2.1 megawatts of power under full sunlight. It’s innovative ideas like the PowerParasol that have other universities following ASU’s lead.
“I am most proud of the fact that ASU is recognized as a leader in the use solar energy as a way to shift to a renewable energy source,” Brixen said. “We have enjoyed tremendous success in our solarization program.”