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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 5:23 pm | Fair 60º


Student-Funded Solar Panel Project Starts Taking Shape at UCSB

Campus parking structure is retrofitted with solar panels to generate electricity

Six dollars per quarter didn’t seem like too much to ask from fellow UC Santa Barbara students, who in 2010 had front-row seats to slashes in state education funding.

Clayton Carlson and Michael Hewitt, both Gauchos at the time, were looking at ways to supplement high utility costs so student services wouldn’t endure even more cuts.

They came up with the renewable energy initiative and asked UCSB students to vote on whether they would pitch in extra student fees over a 10-year period to raise approximately $4 million for renewable energy resources on campus.

Although both activists have since graduated, the legacy of their initiative lives on in a quite visible display that began taking shape this summer.

Anyone who’s seen construction of solar panels atop the multi-level 22 Parking Structure can silently thank those UCSB alumni.

“The students voted overwhelmingly in favor of it,” said Andrew Riley, sustainability coordinator for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. “We plan to carry on with this.”

Student fees are funding the $2.6 million solar project, which will generate about 425 kilowatts — more than enough to power the nearby Student Resources Building.

In optimal, sunny afternoon conditions, that energy output also equals about 3 percent of UCSB power demand.

Riley said saved utility costs will be redirected to some 24 student services departments, including counseling, students workshops, organizations and others.

Crews were working to install solar panels on the roof of a campus parking structure this week. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Construction of the 1,800 panels is slated to continue until late November, and officials could be ready to flip the literal switch to generate energy as early as December.

The solar project is by far the largest on UCSB’s campus, which boasts five existing systems for a collective capacity of 220 kilowatts of DC power, according to Jordan Sager of the Department of Utility & Energy Services.

The new system generates nearly two times that.

Areas with solar panels include the Recreation Center (155 kW), the Bren School (47 kW), Carrillo Dining Commons (5 kW), Harder Stadium (10 kW) and the Henley Gate (2 kW), Sager said.

Down the line, university officials hope solar power could play a larger role in sustainability, Sager said, since the average cost of solar modules has dropped 60 percent since the beginning of 2011 while electricity costs steadily increased.

“These two factors have made large solar projects very compelling economically,” he said. “The campus is currently evaluating the addition of a 3-to-4 megawatt system at various buildings across the campus.”

The project would also fall in step with urgings from UC President Janet Napolitano, who hopes campuses move toward renewable energy sources.

If UCSB officials approve the larger solar project, and obtain federal incentive funding, Sager said it could be complete by the end of 2016.

In the meantime, the university plans to use the remaining $2 million from the student initiative to put the seven student services buildings fully on renewable energy within the next three years.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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