Solar panel sculpture artwork has lined the lawn at Hayden Library for years, but it’s the new solar installations that are contributing to Arizona State University’s dedication to sustainability.
Solar energy projects at ASU’s four campuses now produce 10 megawatts of energy, making it the largest solar installation of any American university, according to university officials.
“Surpassing 10 megawatts of solar energy capacity is a tremendous accomplishment for ASU and our partners,” said ASU President Michael Crow in a press release. “Over the years we have made several major commitments to sustainability, such as establishing the first school devoted to sustainability, raising awareness of how to live sustainable lives and finding ways to harness natural resources, like our abundance of sunshine. By doing these things, we are making a brighter future for ourselves and the place in which we live.”
To put it into perspective, the solar panels on the four campuses can produce enough energy to fulfill about 20 percent of ASU’s electricity needs during the height of daily energy use, said Ray Jensen, ASU associate vice president of university business services.
Basically, that means that amount of energy is enough electricity to power 2,300 to 2,500 homes, according to Arizona Public Service Co.
“It’s a part of a broader, longer-term program to increase efficiency and sustainability campus wide,” Jensen said. Eventually, it will lead to lower energy costs for the university.
The solar installation at the ASU West campus is significant enough to meet the entire electricity demand of that campus, Jensen said.
But this isn’t the end mark for ASU’s solar projects.
“There are another six to eight megawatts (worth of projects) in the queue right now,” said Jensen.
One of those projects is the “PowerParasol” under construction in Lot 59 at the Tempe campus. That’s the large, uncovered parking lot that surrounds Sun Devil Stadium.
“The PowerParasol will provide both solar power and limited shade space,” Jensen said.
The project will cover 800 parking spots and create more than 5 acres of shade that is comparable to tree shade, while also producing about 2.1 MW of energy. It can also mitigate the Valley’s “heat island” effect.
The covering will also have additional lighting and provide better security, the university says. Cell phone antennas, security cameras and electric vehicle charging stations also can be incorporated into the PowerParasol design.
The PowerParasol project is the first between ASU and NRG Solar, part of NRG Energy. Construction started in August and is scheduled to be completed by December.
“Within the 25-year, $10.5-million agreement, NRG will own and operate the PowerParasol, and in exchange, ASU will pay flat electricity rates during the term,” an ASU statement said. “Within three to four years, the university should experience reduced electricity rates.”
This sort of technology can also be used in other places outside of ASU, Jensen said. Playgrounds and parks could benefit from PowerParasols in the future, allowing children to play outside during more of the year.
ASU is looking to install a PowerParasol in the lawn outside Hayden Library in Tempe, Jensen said.
“Panels could be spaced to allow the grass to get sunlight,” Jensen said. “The sun is so intense here, even when it’s not that hot out, people still head for the shade. We want to create spaces people will use.”
Other potential projects including adding panels to the rooftop of Wells Fargo Arena, Jensen said.
“With so many days of sunshine, I think that Arizona needs to continue to be committed to effective, efficient solar projects,” Jensen said. With more demand for solar energy, solar technology will only become more efficient and affordable, he said.
“The projects at ASU demonstrate to the Valley that there is a place for solar energy in Arizona and in the Sun Belt,” Jensen said.
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