Can UC Meet its Solar Goal?

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The University of California (UC) System in 2004 set a goal ofinstalling a combined 10 megawatts of renewable energy on UC campuses by 2014. A good chunk of that energy could come from solar. But accordingto Matt St. Clair, Sustainability Manager at the UC Office, the overall target may be a bit ambitious.

“Schools are trying to maximize their photovoltaic installations,”said St. Clair, as he addressed several issues that are making the goalharder to reach. The most notable obstacle is a California Solar Incentive (CSI)provision that puts a cap on solar incentives for universities after the campus has installed 1 megawatt (MW) of solar energy. UC San Diego, UCIrvine and UC Merced have all installed one megawatt, effectively locking themout of further incentive money. Since the UC system has no solar energybudget — which is not particularly surprising, given the recent fiscalwoes afflicting the California government — the schools cannot afford to take on additional other solar projects.

The UC system currently aims for part of its renewable energy goalvia power purchase agreements (PPAs). UC San Francisco, for instance,has a PPA with MMARenewable Ventures in which MMA owns and operates a 250-kilowatt(kW) system designed by Chevron Energy on UCSF’s campus. In 2008, UCIrvine finalized a PPA with SunEdison that eventually led tothe university’s 1 MW system.

“We would easily meet our target without regulatory barriers,” saidSt. Clair, referring to the 1-mW incentive cap.

Some UC’s are pursuing renewable energy via other, non-solar avenues, however. UC Davis is working on an efficient biodigester that canconvert organic waste into methane. The university is also workingtoward net-zero energy use at its WestVillage Community.

As for solar, the UC system has installed 3.5 mW of on-campus solarphotovoltaic power, all told. Despite the lack of funding andincentives, there’s an outside chance the UC system could get theremaining 6.5 mWs of renewable energy generation installed.

“It’s not out of reach, but it’s going to be a challenge,” said St.Clair.

Can University of California System Meet its Solar Goal?

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