US: Princeton to install 5 MW solar collector field

03. February 2011 | Applications & Installations | By:  Becky Stuart

Princeton University has announced it will install a 5.3 megawatt solar collector field on 27 acres of its land in West Windsor Township, New Jersey.

Picture of Princeton's houses in the summer

The project should generate eight million kilowatt-hours per year, which would be enough to meet 5.5 percent of Princeton’s total annual campus electrical needs. Image: Flickr/minnibeach.

If approved by local and state authorities, construction on the project could start this summer, with completion scheduled for 2012. In total, 16,500 photovoltaic panels will be used, reportedly making it one of the largest single installations at a U.S. college or university, when completed.

The collector field should generate eight million kilowatt-hours per year, which would be enough to meet 5.5 percent of Princeton’s total annual campus electrical needs. Furthermore, the system is expected to be mounted on four to five foot poles facing south. About 80 percent of the system will be composed of SunPower trackers, while the remainder will use solar technology that fixes the panels at a tilt of 25 degrees.

The project will be funded and owned by Colorado-based Key Equipment Finance, which will then lease it, for eight years, to Princeton. As the owner, the company will receive the full benefits of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) incentives, while the university will "host" the system. As such, Princeton will receive a lower lease rate.

During the lease, the university will, however, sell solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) produced by the project to a utility, which will allow the utility to claim all environmental benefits. (For each 1,000 kilowatt-hours of solar electricity generated, the state of New Jersey issues an SREC, which Princeton then will be able to sell at a price determined by the market.)

Princeton is expected to begin "retiring" its SRECs in 2020, when it can then claim environmental benefits.

"What's more important than the size of the project is the leadership role we're taking," stated Ted Borer, Princeton's energy plant manager. "We're using a business model for the system that others will want to adopt by first paying for the system through incentives and SRECs and then stopping selling the SRECs and retiring them so we make a real and significant emissions reduction ourselves.

"At the same time, we anticipate saving much more money than other organizations by leasing the solar PV (photovoltaic) equipment rather than buying power through a 'Power Purchase Agreement.' This will allow Princeton to benefit from the full SREC value and the full energy savings for the life of the system. I believe that when people hear about what we've achieved and realize how much more financial and environmental benefit we've delivered than almost any other solar host before," Borer added, "they'll want to pursue this funding model."

Princeton has already installed two other solar systems. These encompass an array of around 5,000 panels installed in 2009 on the roof of the building that houses the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP); and an array of 216 panels on the newly completed Frick Chemistry Laboratory on the university's main campus.


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