Buildings Energy & Emissions

Expanding Solar at WashU

In recent months, the Office of Sustainability’s Renewable Energy team has focused on identifying opportunities for increasing solar energy generation on WashU’s campuses. WashU currently has 605 kilowatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) installed on university-owned property throughout the region – roughly 2,500 solar panels that together would cover just under half of Mudd Field. The solar energy currently produced by the panels reduces our carbon footprint by an estimated 630 metric tons of CO2 each year, which is equivalent to burning 670,000 fewer pounds of coal or consuming 71,000 fewer gallons of gasoline each year. Per the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan for Sustainable Operations, WashU has committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 51,300 metric tons of CO2 by 2020, largely through energy efficiency initiatives. While the university has made strides in working towards this goal, on-site solar PV projects will contribute to achieving it.

Focusing on the university’s largest solar-friendly roofs on the Danforth and School of Medicine campuses, WashU could triple or quadruple the current solar capacity. The Renewable Energy team is currently in the process of developing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to send out to solar development companies who will bid on these potential projects. When an institution pursues a large solar project, it will often issue an RFP to detail project specifics and the goals of the institution. This will often include schematics of the buildings that could host solar arrays, along with institutional guidelines for financing and implementing the project, including standard practices for financial modeling, legal structures for the ownership and operation of the solar array, preferences for the types of technologies to be included, and university motivations for pursuing solar energy generation. Upon reviewing the project specifications under the RFP, bidders will submit proposed solar array layouts and price estimates for each of the rooftop locations, and the team will then evaluate these proposals in order to determine which one offers the strongest value to the university.

Because there is a wide range of options for technologies and financial structures within the world of solar projects, developers will often add unnecessary costs to a system out of uncertainty as to what their client is asking for. By sharing a detailed RFP with bidders, the university hopes to receive more well-specified, targeted bids, ultimately cutting down on system price and transactions costs. In developing an RFP, the team has worked extensively with university partners in legal, financial, technical, and administrative roles in order to properly structure our project scope and requests from developers.

As WashU’s solar portfolio has largely been comprised of fixed roof-mounted systems, we have also been looking for new ways to diversify our mix of solar projects. The university was recently selected by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to receive assistance from them in identifying these opportunities and bringing new projects to completion. These new projects may include garage-top solar, which is an exciting resource on campus with a large potential for solar energy generation, as well as partnerships with other institutions and organizations in the region to promote solar development in the greater St. Louis community.

This article was written by Taylor Blevin, a Renewable Energy Associate.