UC Merced Tapping Into Solar Power

September 18, 2009 8:04:13 PM PDT
U.C. Merced is working to take advantage of the Valley sun through a huge new solar field. It's being built on the campus right now.From the heart of U.C. Merced's campus, it's easy to miss a major new project that's now underway. But take a short drive to the east, and this is what you'll find ... an eight and a half acre solar field being built on undeveloped university land.

The panels will rotate to track the sun from the east to the west to gain the maximum amount of power. On a clear summer day, once the system is complete it will produce about 2/3 of the campus' electricity. And it's expected to generate 20 percent of the school's electricity annually.

John Elliott says the system, which should be ready this fall, comes with no upfront costs for U.C. Merced, and it will produce power more cheaply than the university could buy it from PG&E.

Elliott said, "There are rebates that come through the state of California for a system like this, and we are doing it through something called a power purchase agreement, so a 3rd party entity designs, constructs, maintains and actually owns the system, and then we agree to buy the power from the system over a 20 year contract period."

The agreement comes at a time when solar panel companies are struggling in the stock market. Analysts say it's mostly because supply surged in anticipation that demand would rise more quickly than it has. However, Governor Schwarzenegger visited a renewable energy company in the Bay Area Friday to highlight a new study that says California is on track to more than double its power generated by solar panels this year. And the construction manager on this U.C. Merced project expects that trend to continue. And for U.C. Merced, it's another step toward its goal of becoming the greenest university in the country.

U.C. Merced also announced it has received a one million dollar state grant to continue researching how to make the most of renewable energy technologies on campus.

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