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Arizona State University to start rooftop solar project

Jun 10, 2008 - Chris Kahn - The Associated Press

Arizona State University plans to spread solar panels across the rooftops of its sprawling Tempe, Ariz. campus, creating the largest solar array at an American university, school officials said.

ASU plans to begin installing solar panels on about 135,000 square feet of rooftop in August, about a third of that available on university buildings. They will provide 2 megawatts of electricity to the university grid - about 7 percent of the school's energy needs.

That's enough to power 4,600 computers and reduce ASU's carbon emissions by 2,825 tons per year.

"We have a tremendous number of buildings that have flat roofs. It's an ideal place to put these things," Jonathan Fink, director of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, said.

Fink said the project is part of a larger plan to cut the school's energy use by installing more insulation, renovating cooling and heating systems, planting shade trees and adding other features to buildings to make them more energy efficient.

If they can run more efficient buildings, ASU officials believe the panels may someday provide 20 percent of the campus' electricity, Fink said.

Tempe's brilliant, cloudless skies, which have drawn out-of-state students to ASU for generations, make the campus a perfect place for solar. ASU researchers have worked on solar technology since the 1960s, Fink said, and that makes this project especially exciting.

"We like the idea of being able to see results of research actually being used in our physical plan," Fink said.

The university will use federal and state tax credits to help pay for the project, and it doesn't expect to have any upfront costs. School officials said they've hired Honeywell Building Solutions, Independent Energy Group of Arizona and SolEquity to develop the project.

The companies plan to sell electricity back to ASU at a fixed rate over the next 15 years.

"It's a great opportunity for us to develop a partnership (with ASU) to not only install but maintain this for the life of the project," said Luca Mazzei, vice president of strategy and marketing at Honeywell Building Solutions.

Mazzei said it's unknown yet how much ASU will pay for the electricity.

Federal tax credits have fueled a wave of solar projects like the one at ASU.

Solar Energy Industries Association spokeswoman Monique Hanis said solar installations jumped 49 percent in 2007, compared with the previous year, primarily from private companies installing rooftop panels.

"I think the public and commercial entities are realizing that energy is a rising cost, and they want to manage that cost," Hanis said.

However, Fink said much of that investment could disappear at the end of this year if Congress doesn't renew the incentives for solar projects.

"The public doesn't realize what could happen here," Fink said. If Congress doesn't renew the tax credit "the U.S. will continue to fall behind Germany, China and Japan for developing these new technologies."


Updated: 2003/07/28