NREL Brings Midmarket Solar PV Technical Assistance to 36 Universities and Colleges
NREL has offered no-cost technical assistance to American universities seeking to go solar. The program, in support of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot initiative, is designed to increase the deployment of mid-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at universities, engage stakeholders to develop deployment solutions, and empower decision makers.
In 2016 and 2017 NREL provided universities with 15 detailed screenings and implementation assistance using the REopt energy planning platform and other tools. NREL's REopt energy planning platform can help schools understand the optimal mix of renewable energy and fossil fuels required to meet their cost savings, greenhouse gas reduction, and energy performance goals. The REopt platform combines high-level site, resource, cost, incentive, and financial data to identify the most cost-effective ways to meet energy goals across a portfolio of sites. It provides a quick and low-cost screening method to identify the most economically and technically viable technologies for further study.
In fiscal year 2016, NREL worked with:
- Fairleigh Dickinson University (NJ)
- Lake Superior College (MN)
- Luther College (IA)
- Milwaukee Area Technical College (WI)
- Northern Arizona University (AZ)
- University of Colorado — Colorado Springs (CO)
- University of Minnesota Duluth (MN)
- Washington and Lee University (VA).
In fiscal year 2017, NREL is working with:
- Beloit College (WI)
- Georgia Tech (GA)
- Lane Community College (OR)
- South Central College (MN)
- Thomas College (ME)
- Tuskegee University (AL)
- University of California Riverside (CA).
Short-Term Implementation Technical Assistance
In addition, NREL provides short-term solar PV implementation assistance to decision-makers in the higher education sector through one-on-one consultations. In 2016 and in 2017, NREL has worked with 21 higher education institutions.
In 2016, NREL worked with:
- Gallaudet University (Washington, D.C.)
- Kennesaw State University (GA)
- North Carolina State (NC)
- Ohio University (OH)
- Millersville University (PA)
- Parkland College (IL)
- Southern Connecticut State University (CT)
- SUNY College at Oneonta (NY)
- University at Albany (NY)
- University of Florida.
In 2017 NREL worked with:
- Binghamton University (NY)
- Dartmouth College (NH)
- Loyola Marymount University (CA)
- Loyola University (IL)
- Saint Mary’s College (MD)
- University of Central Florida
- Washington University in Saint Louis (MO)
As of May, 2017 NREL selected an additional round of universities for assistance.
- Saint Mary’s College (CA)
- University of Denver (CO)
- University of Illinois in Chicago
- Western Washington University
Many selected universities have created strategic plans and renewable goals, planning to generate 30% to 100% of their energy from renewables in the future. NREL will assist the universities with financing strategies, project assessments through NREL’s System Analysis Model (SAM), REopt modeling, request for proposal writing and reviewing, power purchase agreement writing and reviews, and general consultations. NREL also works with the Center for Resource Solutions to provide guidance to schools on their renewable energy claims.
For example, at Western Washington University (WWU), sustainability graduate students are participating in coordination calls with NREL staff, collecting necessary energy and site data, and learning to utilize some of NREL’s models. WWU has been a leader in the state of Washington’s sustainability efforts. With encouragement from the student body, the university is working towards purchasing 100% renewable energy and becoming carbon neutral by 2050. With NREL’s help they plan to install solar PV arrays to contribute to these goals.
Dartmouth College, using a REopt analysis, discovered that a planned solar site two miles away from the campus would not be cost-effective unless the infrastructure that would transmit the energy to campus was redesigned.
When Saint Mary’s College in Maryland wanted to expand a grant for electric vehicle charging and solar carports to a 300 stall array, they relied on a SAM analysis to study the plan’s feasibility. The analysis and NREL consultation suggested that building a separate solar PV array over the recreation center would be more cost-effective. NREL also assisted in redesigning their request for proposal to include a power purchase agreement to expand the project and possibly create a community solar project.
The results of NREL’s technical assistance reflect the rapid pace at which higher education institutions are adopting renewables with a variety of funding mechanisms and policy changes. To support this trend, NREL recently published a guide for midsized solar customers entitled, Midmarket Solar Policies in the United States. The guide provides a complete, state-by-state inventory of midmarket solar policies for potential customers and developers to use as reference when making policy-based decisions. Although solar policies may change, the state-by-state profiles provide a framework for assessing policies that can affect the feasibility and structures of solar PV systems for midmarket customers.
At the end of 2017, NREL will have assisted 36 higher education entities. The technical assistance program enables professors and students to learn about the process of siting and installing renewable energy, as their universities transition toward a more sustainable future.