Lighting the Way With Solar: There’s No Time Like the Present
By Bill Blackley
More than 20,000 megawatts (mW) of cumulative solar electric capacity are now operating in the U.S. − enough to power more than four million average American homes, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports.
In fact, SEIA figures show that since the implementation of the solar investment tax credit (ITC) in 2006, the cost to install solar has dropped by more than 73%. This may well explain why, in 2014, a new solar project was installed every 2.5 minutes.1
Data from SEIA’s annual “Solar Means Business” report show that major U.S. corporations are going solar at an incredible rate. Between 2012 and 2014, the top 25 corporate users more than doubled their solar capacity.
This movement was, in all likelihood, fueled by the fact that the average price of a completed commercial photovoltaic (PV) project decreased 14% year-over-year since 2012 − for a total drop exceeding 45%. 2
The Solar Foundation’s “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools”reveals that more than 2.7 million American students attend schools with solar. Of the 125,000 K-12 schools in the US, it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds can “go solar” cost effectively. 3
With sustainability initiatives at the forefront of many college campuses and 51% of new electric generating capacity coming from solar in Q1 of 2015, it’s no surprise that many U.S. colleges are exploring solar options.
Auburn University, for example, funded a pilot project, in 2012, installing 24 solar panels on top of the northeast and southeast stairwells of the stadium parking deck. The system was designed to feed the power generated by the solar panels back into the university’s master power grid as an offset to other energy used on campus.
And Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, has been involved with renewable energy projects for years. In 2009, the university constructed its first 7-acre solar parking canopy on its Livingston campus. The solar farm quickly proved its financial worth and created a buzz among students, faculty and staff interested in learning more about PV systems and renewable energy.
Antonio Calcado, Rutgers VP for Facilities and Capital Planning, said the project generates 1.4 mW of electricity for the university; reduces the school’s carbon emissions by 1,200 tons per year; and saves it more than $220,000 in annual electrical costs. 4
Just two years later, the university’s Board of Governors approved a second, much larger solar canopy installation at its Livingston campus. Underwritten by partner Key Bank, it consists of nearly 30 acres of solar canopies generating 8 mW of electricity.
Even more unique to this project are the LED light fixtures mounted on the underside of the solar panels. In keeping with the school’s sustainability goals, these fixtures sip only a fraction of the system’s solar energy.
Completed in 2013, the parking lot system comprises 31,032 high-efficiency solar panel structures of 260W each. It generates $1.2 million in electricity, which is enough to power 1,000 average American homes. 5 Combined with the university’s first solar parking canopy, it supplies 63% percent of the electrical needs on the Livingston campus. 6
Reductions in the construction costs of solar canopies, combined with strong incentives from the NJ Board of Public Utilities, have provided Rutgers with a very attractive return on investment.
While partner Key Bank receives tax incentives in exchange for underwriting the project, Rutgers retains the solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), which are being sold to electric suppliers to provide a source of revenue for the university.
When combined with the savings from electricity costs,
it expects to net $28 million from the solar project over a 20-year period. 7
As the need for energy – and energy conservation – grows, owners and operators want to make sure that the highest efficiency lighting products available are used with the solar canopies. Continuing the trend of installing LED luminaires in place of older, less efficient technologies, the Rutgers solar canopies are illuminated by 342 of Kenall’s TekDek 50-watt LED parking luminaires.
Those fixtures, along with security cameras, are designed to help ensure staff, student and visitor safety in designated parking areas on campus.
The luminaires specified for the Rutgers solar parking canopies have a number of features, including:
The highest efficacy rating – more than 150 lumens per watt − in the USDOE’s “Lighting Facts” program.
• The DLC Qualified Products List, which assists in qualifying for rebates and incentives.
• Specialized optics designed to reduce disabling glare, optimizing pedestrian and vehicular safety.
• Reduced maintenance costs due to long-life LEDs − up to 150,000 hours.
• Certified to perform; ingress protection rated and “wet location” listed.
• Vandal-resistant design.
• Lifetime Peace of Mind Guarantee.
Faced with rising energy costs, parking owners, operators and facility managers are increasingly considering alternative sources of energy to power their facilities. With more than 14,000 square miles of surface lots in the U.S., individuals involved with new parking projects are challenged to find ways to make those square miles work in their favor.
Energy from solar systems illuminating LED luminaires is an attractive option from a cost perspective, and it contributes significantly to a reduction of carbon emissions, while helping owners meet emerging building goals and standards related to energy efficiency.
Financial incentives and rebates from state, federal and local utility sources help reduce the initial cost of investment, while providing attractive payback scenarios. Barring congressional action, the expiration and reduction of the solar ITC is expected to lead to a 57% decline of installed solar capacity in 2017.
A Forbes.com report said that “those best positioned to survive the post-ITC apocalyptic world will be those companies that gain market share by accelerating activities through 2016. …” 8
Michael Kornitas, CEM, LEED AP, the Energy Conservation Manager for Rutgers’ utilities operations, understands that the time for solar investment is now.
“Because of the subsidies in the state of New Jersey and the federal credits that are available, it became a no-brainer to do it,” Kornitas said. “We’ll be pretty much cash-positive right from the get-go.”
Contact Bill Blackley, Director of Product Marketing at Kenall Manufacturing, at XXXXX.
1 https://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-industry-data “Solar Industry Breaks 20 GW Barrier – Grows Over 34% over 2013”
2 https://www.seia.org/solarmeansbiz “Solar Means Business”
3 http://www.seia.org/research-resources/brighter-future-study-solar-us-schools “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools
4 http://news.rutgers.edu/news-releases/2011/04/rutgers-board-of-gov-20110405#.VemnC85rWHk “Rutgers Board of Governors Approves 32-Acre Solar Canopy Project”
5 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/01/28/the-best-idea-in-a-long-time-covering-parking-lots-with-solar-panels/ “The best idea in a long time: Covering parking lots with solar panels”
6 http://greensportsalliance.org/rutgers-powers-campus-with-largest-solar-canopy-system-in-nation/ “Rutgers Powers Campus with Largest Solar Canopy System in Nation”
7 http://www.conticorp.com/project/rutgers_university_parking Rutgers University Parking
8 http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdetwiler/2015/04/15/winter-is-coming-preparing-for-a-possible-reduction-of-the-solar-investment-tax-credit/ “‘Winter Is Coming’ − Preparing For A Possible Reduction Of The Solar Investment Tax Credit”