Google Earth users scrolling from West Haven to Orange, Connecticut will soon no longer just see the dark tan roofs of Yale West Campus buildings. Instead, they will see the glint of the sun on dark-blue solar panels arrayed across about 350,000 square feet of warehouse roof — part of the University’s efforts to make West Campus a leader in sustainability.
The panels will generate over a million kilowatt-hours every year, providing up to 5 percent of the total yearly energy consumption of West Campus, according to facilities utilities and engineering director Anthony Kosior, whose team ran oversight and technology during the installation. The photovoltaic cells themselves, however, were installed over the course of the summer by Solar City, a California-based energy company.
“The economics of this kind of an installation has gotten much better than it has been in recent years,” he said. “This, coupled with our greenhouse gas reduction goals, made the installation a much better fit than it has been in the past.”
Leaders of West Campus have considered installing solar panels for several years, but only recently has the project become financially feasible.
As part of a 20-year lease with Solar City, the University does not own the solar panels, but rather purchases electricity generated by the panels from Solar City instead of off the grid from the United Illuminating Company, New Haven’s power provider, Kosior said. Alongside the environmental benefits, the photovoltaic array resulted in modest savings without upfront costs due to the lease structure, he added.
The solar power is used as soon as it is generated; there is no battery system to store excess energy, Kosior said. He added that this is helpful because the energy produced comprises a relatively small proportion of the energy consumed by West Campus.
This installation was part of the Yale Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013–16, a set of 25 goals for the University aiming to bring sustainability efforts into everyday life on campus, said Amber Garrard, education and outreach manager of the Office of Sustainability. One of these goals, she said, is to increase the percent of sustainable energy generated on campus to 1 percent.
The University has far to go before it meets that 1 percent goal — according to an Office of Sustainability report, only 0.1 percent of the electricity generated on campus came from sustainable sources in the 2015 fiscal year. Expanded photovoltaic arrays may be a way for the University to reach that goal, Garrard said, adding that multiple requests for proposals are in the works for smaller scale solar panel arrays.
“We are looking at areas [on West Campus, the School of Medicine and main campus] to expand our renewable energy footprint within the next fiscal year,” Kosior said. “We’re going to identify a few potential sites and have the bidders go in and evaluate them to determine which ones are the best and most attractive.”
Kosior added that an expanded solar presence, such as increased solar panels on other parts of camps, could be expected within the next few years.
This solar array is installed near West Campus’ Energy Sciences Institute, one of seven interdisciplinary research institutes on the campus. This research site has become one of the testing grounds for campus sustainability efforts, said Gary Brudvig, director of the Energy Sciences Institute.
“As director of the institute, I like to see West Campus having a role in increasing visibility for sustainability efforts on campus,” Brudvig said. “We are now completing the renovation of a building called the Energy Science Center, and one aspect of that has been to have it be a model of energy efficiency for Yale’s campus.”
This facility is outfitted with energy-saving tools, such as immediately visible energy usage data displays at the building’s entrance and controls over the airflow and heat of the laboratories to keep power consumption at a comfortable minimum, Brudvig said.
“The idea is that people living in the building will adjust their behavior and use less power if usage in the building is displayed on the monitors,” Brudvig said. “We’re hoping that it serves as a model within Yale for reducing energy use within buildings.”
Although the photovoltaic array was only recently completed and formally opened, sections of the array have been in use since early this summer, said Kosior.
As West Campus increases in size over the years, he added, both the new installations of solar panels and new practices including the Energy Science Center’s energy controls and awareness tools should make West Campus a substantially more environmentally sustainable location.
“There are several other sites on West Campus that we may use to further expand the footprint of renewables,” Kosior said. “There’s been lots of build-out in projects on West Campus, and we evaluate every project to make sure that our energy standards are being employed there to ensure that we keep energy use as low as we can.”
According to Yale’s Office of Sustainability, although West Campus has grown by 14 percent in size since 2005, the campus has decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent.