AMHERST — Two more solar canopies are going up over parking lots at the University of Massachusetts that will produce enough energy to power around 650 households each year.
Construction of the canopies began last spring over parking lots 21-22, across North University Drive from the Southwest Residential Area, and parking lot 49, near the Orchard Hill Residential Area. The combined 4.09-megawatt solar canopies are projected to produce 4.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity.
University officials said the installation work is set to be completed before the start of the fall semester on Sept. 1, and the electrical connections to be finished by mid-fall.
The project, which also includes 20 new charging spaces for electric vehicles and a battery energy storage system, is being financially structured as a power-purchase agreement between the university and Con Edison Solutions, an energy company whose subsidiary, CED Amherst Solar LLC, is the developer of the project. As part of the agreement, UMass committed to purchasing electricity from Con Edison at a contractual rate per kilowatt for the next 20 years.
A $1.1 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Renewable Energy through its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program, which is designed to encourage affordable solar development throughout the state, was also awarded to UMass and will offset much of the cost of the power-purchase agreement.
“Without that (grant) it would have been costing us money to ultimately put this in by purchasing the electricity,” said Ray Jackson, director of the Physical Plant at UMass. “Now we can purchase electricity off these units, and save, or at no worse, break even, on the project.”
The solar energy, in addition to the battery storage system that will allow the university to decide when to use the electricity, will save the university up to $500,000 a year, which Jackson said can then be used elsewhere to continue reducing the university’s carbon footprint.
“We’re finding (energy storage to be a) key to fully optimizing and utilizing carbon free technology on campus,” said Jackson. This will be the first battery unit on campus that will be charged completely via solar power.
Before 2015, UMass was utilizing no solar energy. But, since then, solar canopies have been built over the visitor center parking lot, five rooftops, and two larger ones were placed over lots 25 and 44.
“I think people don’t realize the potential for parking lots in general,” said Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager at UMass, who described them as open “fields of concrete.”
“I think that’s important to be able to develop renewable energy systems without compromising green space,” Small said. “You’re essentially converting your already developed land into renewable energy, power plants.”
The solar canopies, in addition to generating electricity, also inadvertently help save energy when vehicles are parked beneath them. In the winter, it protects cars from ice and snow, and in the warmer months, it provides much needed shade.
“That actually saves energy as well because … if your car is cooler when you get in it and you don’t have to use as much air conditioning you’re saving fuel. It’s really cool, I think it’s a win-win,” said Small.
Small is optimistic about the future of solar energy at UMass, and said he believes “it’s important for UMass to show leadership in renewable energy and lead by example for the commonwealth.”