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U.S. Colleges Are Taking Charge of Energy Production and Costs by Going Solar

Colleges and universities in the United States are managing their energy production while working to reduce monthly utility costs and decrease their carbon footprints by dramatically accelerating their adoption of solar power.

According to data released by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), U.S. schools have increased their installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 450 percent over the last three years. AASHE said that over the same period, the median size of the average solar installation project at U.S. schools increased six-fold.

The organization said that, as a result, solar installations at U.S. colleges and universities make up over 124 megawatts, or roughly 5 percent, of the total U.S. solar PV production of 956 megawatts. There are now 435 solar PV installations on 281 campuses in 42 states and provinces.

AASHE cited the University of San Diego and Butte College in California as two examples of the trend towards adopting solar power in higher education.

In 2010, the University of San Diego took advantage of federal and state incentives to install 5,000 solar panels on the roofs of 11 campus buildings with little upfront cost. The solar panels, which have a capacity of 1.23 megawatts and provide up to 15 percent of the campus’ electricity, are owned by a developer who sells the electricity they produce back to the university below market rates. Overall, the installations are estimated to save USD about $50,000 a year in utility costs.

When Butte College completed its third solar array earlier this year, it achieved the distinction of being the first institution in the United States to generate more electricity from solar than it uses. Although the college paid about $17 million — minus federal bonds and utility rebates — to install the 14,000 solar panels on parking and walkway canopies, the third installation produces 2.7 megawatts of electricity. Two previous solar PV installations on campus provide an additional combined 1.916 megawatts of electricity.

AASHE attributed the growth of the higher education solar sector, which is now worth over $300 million, to new financing options, federal and state incentives, and falling average installed per-watt solar costs — which, in the higher education sector, fell from about $10 in 2007 to about $6 in 2010.

Top 10 Biggest Solar PV Systems on U.S. Campuses

Here are the ten U.S. colleges and university campuses with the most total installed solar PV capacity, according to AASHE.

Rank Institution Total Capacity (megawatts)
1. Arizona State University 11.341
2. University of Arizona 6.428
3. West Hills Community College District 6.0
4. United States Air Force Academy 6.0
5. Colorado State University 5.535
6. Arizona Western College 5.105
7. Butte College 4.616
8. Los Angeles Southwest College 4.0
9. William Paterson University of New Jersey 3.5
10. Contra Costa College 3.2


“U.S. Universities Are Going Solar,” Energy Efficiency News, Oct. 17, 2011.

“U.S. Higher Education Solar Capacity Leaps 450 percent in 3 Years,” Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Oct. 6, 2011.

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Campus Solar Voltaic Installations Database

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Solar Photovoltaic Installation @ University of San Diego

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Solar Photovoltaic Installation @ Butte College

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Top Ten Solar Photovoltaic Installations Lists

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