Andrew Riley, Sustainability Coordinator for Student Affairs

It’s hard to miss as you walk by the Student Resource Building at the west side of campus, but you need to look up! The recently constructed and soon to be commissioned 425kW solar array located on Parking Structure 22 is a collaborative effort and a testament to the drive of UCSB’s students to bring renewable energy to the campus. The process kicked off in 2009/10 with two students, Clay Carlson and Michael Hewitt, taking the first steps to getting a referendum called the Renewable Energy Initiative out to a vote.

Carlson and Hewitt had worked with Student Affairs leadership and others to understand the critical issues and how they could best effect meaningful change. At this time, Student Affairs also laid out its ambitious goal to reach Zero Net Energy (ZNE) in partnership with the student’s efforts to bring renewable energy to campus. While these efforts predate the UC President’s goal for carbon neutrality by 2025 by several years, they have meshed well the new UC move toward local renewable energy and self-sufficiency.

The result of the discussions and analysis was the decision to offset the energy use of Student Services and the rising costs of utilities that were rapidly approaching, and threatening to exceed, the fixed budget allocated to Student Affairs to pay these costs. The array will generate more energy than is currently used by the Student Resource Building (SRB) and result in a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and other harmful gas emissions. With the aid of virtual net metering, excess energy generated at the site can be allocated to other Student Services buildings. The effectiveness of the solar array will increase as planned energy efficiency projects reduce the SRB’s consumption even further.

The project was initiated very soon after the referendum was passed by a majority of students in 2010. Since the fee is assessed at six dollars per quarter per student over ten years, interim funding was needed to fast-track the project. The Student Resources Building Governance Board and Student Fee Advisory Committee, along with Student Affairs, committed funds to get the project moving, and the project initiation form was submitted in June of 2010. Construction finally began late 2013, after a redesign and successful rebid.

Currently, the project is awaiting approval from Southern California Edison before generation can begin. It is expected that the array will produce 650,000 kWh per year and have a lifespan likely to exceed 40 years, assuming it behaves similarly to other arrays with high-quality modules and equipment. At present rates of avoided cost of electricity, the project will have a simple payback of 22 years and will generate electricity at around 8 cents a kWh over its lifetime. Since 2010, around thirty-five thousand students have contributed to the Renewable Energy Initiative, and by the sunset of the fee in 2020, that number will approach sixty-five thousand. This project and its funding model are quite similar to a crowd sourced energy project which directly benefits the consumer, reducing the Student Services reliance on utility supplied energy while simultaneously contributing to the campus by reducing peak demand on hot summer days.