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Solar Photovoltaics

Category: Energy Supply, On-site Renewable Energy

Solar Photovoltaics

Summary

Solar Photovoltaics generate electricity using energy from the sun. The three most common solar installations for a campus environment are: ground-mount, roof-top and carport. Additional solar technologies are continuing to emerge (e.g. thin-film, roof-integrated, building facade, window glazings, etc.) Each installation type has a unique combination of technical considerations and environmental and economic benefits. Recent downward price trends for solar technologies has made solar photovoltaics cost competitive with other electricity generation sources.

Benefits

  • Visible commitment to sustainability
  • Can provide economic benefits by reducing peak electric demand charges.
  • Solar panels have a lifespan of 25 years with very low operating expense.

Challenges

  • Need a significant surface area to cover a meaningful portion of energy demand.
  • Requires an up-front capital investment or a long-term contract with a third-party developer.
  • Optimal economic performance is achieved through tax incentives which require a tax-equity partner, since universities are typically tax-exempt.
  • Certain types of panels contain toxic chemicals and require special disposal techniques at end-of-life

Impacts

Greenhouse Gas Impact
Low
Economic Impact
Neutral
Feasibility
Some Challenges
Timeline
1-2 years
Maintenance
Low / None
Publicity
That's pretty cool.

Greenhouse Gas Impact

The scale of on-site solar is often too small to make significant emission reductions.

Economic Impact

Varies due to quality of solar resource, cost of grid-energy and amount of solar installed.

Feasibility

Solar is now a mature technology with a robust ecosystem of technologies and developers.

Timeline

Site permitting, system design and financing are often time-consuming.

Maintenance

Once installed, PV projects require very little maintenance.

Publicity

Solar is sexy.