INFRASTRUCTURE

Washington University boosts solar investment as part of sustainability drive

SOURCE: American Public Power Association on Unsplash
Washington University at St Louis installs new $3.5 million solar photovoltaic project on the Danforth, Medical and North campuses.

Washington University in St. Louis has begun construction on a US$3.5 million solar energy project that will add rooftop solar photovoltaic arrays to six university buildings.

Once construction is complete later this year, the 5,100 solar panels will add 1.9 megawatts of solar-generating capacity to the university.

“Not only will this installation project make us one of the largest consumers of on-site solar energy in the St. Louis area, but it will also enhance our strong institutional commitment to making our campus more sustainable,” Chancellor-Elect Andrew Martin told university paper, The Source.

“This is a significant moment as we lean into our crucial responsibility to the environment and to our mission to prepare global citizens and improve lives in service of the greater good.”

The additional 1.9 megawatts provided by the new panels will bring the university’s total solar-generating capacity to nearly 2.5 megawatts institutionwide, and make WashU one of the largest producers of on-site solar energy in the region.

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The project is part of the university’s wider sustainability strategic plan to reduce its campus greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. WashU has its work cut out for it as figures show emissions more than doubled over that period.

Executive Vice-Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer, Henry S. Webber, described the new project as “ambitious and bold.”

“The clean, renewable power generated by these panels will help the university achieve its goal of further reducing carbon emissions, and continue to elevate important sustainability efforts on campus,” he added.

And he’s not wrong. According to the university, the emissions reduction associated with the new solar installations is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by 2,660 American forest acres.

It’s the emissions equivalent of taking 480 cars off the road, or replacing more than 85,000 incandescent lights with energy-saving LEDs. And it will supply enough electricity to meet the needs of 394 average US homes.

On top of the environmental benefits, the project has also presented an opportunity for students to gain firsthand experience in the fast-growing solar industry. A whole new programme has been created in response to the project after the Office of Sustainability partnered with the Environmental Studies department and Azimuth Energy to develop the Renewable Energy Student Engagement Team (RESET).

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Eighteen students from a range of disciplines have been accepted and will be learning about the business, policy and engineering aspects of the solar industry using the new solar project as a case study.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Sustainability, Phil Valko, recognises the valuable learning opportunity the new installation poses for students.

“The solar project is serving as a living classroom for students to learn about renewable energy and acquire skills and knowledge that will increase their competitiveness in the job market.”