UC Davis to build largest PV installation in University of California system

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The University of California, Davis, and SunPower Corp. plan to build a 16 MW, ground-mounted solar power plant that is expected to generate 14% of UC Davis’ electricity needs.

The project is set to be the largest solar power installation in the University of California system as well as the largest solar power plant to offset the electricity demand of a U.S. university or college campus, according to Sunpower.

"UC Davis is already a national and international leader in sustainability, but this new project truly puts us in a league of our own," said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, expressing hope that the success of the public-private partnership would spur “similar initiatives at universities across the country."

The plant, to be built on a 70-acre (28.3-acre hectare) site, will be owned and operated by SunPower, which will also design and construct the project. The plant will improve the university’s ability to accurately budget for electricity costs, and UC Davis anticipates that it will provide an effective long-term hedge against future utility rate increases.

"SunPower’s first project on the UC Davis campus included the design and construction of four megawatts of high efficiency SunPower technology to power the UC Davis West Village neighborhood, the nation’s largest net-zero community," said Howard Wenger, SunPower president. "The university’s vision to integrate cost-effective, sustainable energy solutions is unparalleled, and is further advanced today by this milestone commitment to build the nation’s largest solar plant to offset electricity demand of a university campus."

SunPower will install its SunPower Oasis Power Plant technology at the site, which uses single-axis tracking technology to position high efficiency solar panels to track the sun throughout the day, increasing energy capture by up to 25% over fixed-tilt solar technology. The technology includes robotic panel cleaning capability that reduces water usage by approximately 90% over traditional cleaning methods.

The project is designed to generate 33 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, compared to total campus electricity use of 228 million kilowatt hours in 2013-14. It is expected to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint by an estimated 9%.

"UC Davis’s greenhouse gas emissions are lower today than they were five years ago despite campus growth," said Sid England, assistant vice chancellor for environmental stewardship and sustainability at UC Davis. "Adding the new solar project will help continue this remarkable trend and supports President Napolitano’s initiative to be carbon neutral by 2025."

UC Davis and renewable energy

There are currently about 5 MW of solar power installed on the UC Davis campus. Solar panels in parking lots and buildings, including the Jess Jackson sustainable winery, Segundo and Tercero dining commons and Segundo Services Center, contribute just over one megawatt to the campus grid. The UC Davis West Village neighborhood, developed through a public-private partnership with West Village Community Partnership, LLC, which has a separate power grid, has 4 MW of SunPower solar panels installed, enabling the neighborhood to reach a goal of zero-net energy use.

The University of California Office of the President recently announced that it will purchase over 200,000 megawatt hours per year of solar energy to supply several campuses. UC Davis will receive some of that power through its current supplier, the Western Area Power Administration.

UC Davis also generates energy from a biodigester, located at the campus landfill and developed from campus research.

The university anticipates that, when the plant is completed in 2015, more than one-third of total electricity demand on campus will be served from carbon neutral energy sources.