UC Merced rooftops to get solar panels

01/06/2014 11:35 PM

01/06/2014 11:37 PM

In a move to double its energy output, UC Merced will be adding solar panels this year to as many as a dozen buildings on and off campus.

The university’s facilities management team expects to pick a company later this month to install the photovoltaic systems on eight to 12 structures, which could produce an additional megawatt of energy.

“Eventually, we would like them to be all over campus,” said Zuhair Mased, director of energy and sustainability for the university.

About half of the buildings on campus could get the panels, including student housing, the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library and office buildings. University House, the home provided off campus for the chancellor, is also a possibility.

The university’s solar field, which is just south of campus, produces one megawatt daily. A megawatt could power about 1,250 homes for a year, Mased said.

With the addition of rooftop panels, UC Merced would generate about 30 percent of the electricity it uses in a year, according to facilities officials.

Six companies have bid for the yearlong project, which is set to begin in April.

The project will cost the university nothing, according to Mased. UC Merced and the company it selects will enter into a power-purchasing agreement, in which the company pays to install and maintain the panels and the university buys the power for a set number of years. Mased said that sort of agreement is typical for such projects.

The cost to install the panels isn’t known, Mased said. The team will choose a plan on its merits and see its price tag afterward.

The move to solar energy is part of UC Merced’s goal to reach its “triple net zero” commitment by 2020. The idea is to consume zero net energy through efficiency and renewable energy production, produce zero landfill waste and prevent as much carbon emission as it produces.

The solar field south of campus is part of that effort and has given some students a chance to research energy production, Erickson said. Officials see no reason why the rooftop panels couldn’t do the same.

The campus has a number of other projects, such as its compost and recycling programs, that work toward the triple net zero goal.

Officials said the project will save the university money on its energy bills. The power generated from the panels is cheaper than that supplied by PG&E, Mased said.

UC Merced professor and solar energy researcher Roland Winston, who is known for his innovative research, said the university sends the right message in its efforts to embrace solar power. Winston is the director of University of California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute.

“I think it’s very good that our campus is turning more toward being solar,” Winston said. “It’s a good statement for the students to see it, and it’s a good first step.”

The 11 buildings on campus that could get the systems are the library; The Summits; Half Dome; Sierra Terraces; Student Activities and Athletic Center; Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center; Academic Office Annex; Classroom and Office Building 1; Social Sciences and Management Building; Science and Engineering 1; and Facilities Management Building B.

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