Cal Poly’s new solar farm, the university’s first major energy project since announcing a goal of climate neutrality, has been dedicated.
The 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 individual solar panels with a capacity of 4.5 MWac.
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.
Cal Poly partnered with REC Solar, a San Luis Obispo-based company founded by two Cal Poly alumni, and RPCS to design, construct and install the site. The site is being financed by Duke Energy via a power purchase agreement that will allow CalPoly to purchase energy at a lower rate without paying upfront for the cost of the system’s construction and maintenance.
The solar farm uses ground-mounted single-axis tracking technology from RPCS partner Array Technologies. This innovative technology, specifically Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 system, increases energy production of the solar modules by 20 to 25 percent over fixed-tilt systems. RPCS is the trusted DG partner for Array Technologies’ solar tracker systems and provides leading U.S. solar companies with turnkey services in the ground mount utility-scale solar sector.
“Cal Poly is an important project for a lot of reasons and RPCS is proud to have contributed to its success. It was a pleasure making sure the trackers and installation were perfect and that everything from boundaries, topo, environmental and schedule challenges were handled beautifully,” said Alex Smith, RPCS’s Chief Sales Officer.
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,” said 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. 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,” said Dennis Elliot, the university’s director of energy, utilities and sustainability.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 set groundbreaking goals to cut the state’s greenhouse gas 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 greenhouse gas 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. The efforts also include LEED certified energy-efficient campus buildings, Cal Poly currently has seven LEED-certified projects that represent nearly a third of the campus’ 6 million square feet of building space.
News item form Cal Poly