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Campus Energy Initiatives | Feature

The Solar College: Generating Savings with Green Technologies

A California college has shaved $650,000 off of its energy expenses with a few strategic moves, including solar panels that double as cover for parking and Web-based software for micromanaging lighting and mechanical energy use.

Santa Barbara City College may have rolled out its energy conservation and environmental impact plan 10 years ago, but the institution is still realizing impressive, new cost savings from the initiative. Most recently, the college tallied up the results of its efforts and found that it has shaved $650,000 in energy costs since going green in 2001.

The Solar Campus
Most recently, SBCC installed an array of photovoltaic carports at its West Campus. The system covers three rows of parking spaces in the surface parking lots.

Julie Hendricks, director of facilities and campus development for SBCC, said the college tapped a low-interest loan from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to partially fund the project. The remainder was funded with district construction funds for a total building cost of $2.38 million.

The goal was to provide students and employees with well lit, covered parking on campus. The photovoltaic system was designed to produce approximately 200 kW of energy using 1,344 panels and to represent roughly 30 percent of the electricity used on the school's West Campus. As an incentive to go green, SBCC receives $0.37 per kWh for a five-year period through Southern California Edison's California Solar Initiative program.

SBCC's solar parking lot is saving the campus a projected 30 percent on energy costs.

Hendricks said the college is posting approximately $90,000 per year in utility cost savings as a result of the system, which will pay for itself within 10 years. Even more importantly, she added, the photovoltaic setup will prevent the emission of 559,000 pounds of CO₂ annually.

Green Initiatives
The institution's green efforts are rooted in a campus-wide energy assessment conducted about a decade ago. After identifying several areas in need of improvement, the school took advantage of California state code 4217.11, which allows public agencies to roll out alternative energy projects without having to go through the bidding process.

"That's how the seed was planted," said Hendricks. "Using the assessment--which included all of the lighting and major mechanical equipment at the school's three facilities--we went forward on a mission to become more environmentally friendly."

Calling the photovoltaic project the "crown jewel" of SBCC's overall mission to become greener, Hendricks said other initiatives have included lighting retrofits and the replacement and overhauling of mechanical equipment.

SBCC has also improved its stadium lighting system by installing automatic security lights that turn on and off at scheduled times, with game lights only turned on when necessary. "This ensures less energy consumption and better use of our resources," said Hendricks.

Up next, according to Hendricks, is an Internet-based energy management system (EMS) that will allow the institution to monitor and control its lighting and mechanical equipment online. "When you can control these systems through the Web, with one IT person sitting in front of computer, turning lights and equipment on and off," said Hendricks, "you start to become pretty efficient."

SBCC's previous EMS was outdated and had "started to come apart," said Hendricks. Now, the school is about halfway through the installation process for its new EMS.

Funding, Support, and Oversight
Like the photovoltaic project, the initiative is being partially funded through Southern California Edison's California Solar Initiative program.

Hendricks said the funding source has been invaluable for the school in its mission to become more environmentally friendly while saving significant money in the process. "Basically we apply for the incentives, and the energy company comes out and conducts a site assessment," Hendricks explained. "If you meet their criteria and goals, you get the rebate."

But while involving a third party has meant increased funding for SBCC's green initiatives, it has also translated into more oversight and administration. "When we first got involved, the program was pretty new, so things were a bit process-heavy," Hendricks explained. "Edison oversees everything to make sure that we do it right, and is very careful about verifying every installation."

Having a reputable contractor handle those installations helped SBCC work through some of the red tape. "We hired an energy services firm to handle the job from start to finish," said Hendricks. "That firm also helped with the administrative load; we were pretty happy with that."

Being situated in a state that supports alternative energy projects and related initiatives has also helped SBCC achieve its energy goals, which Hendricks said he expects will be even easier to achieve once the new EMS is in place.

"These aren't exactly glamorous, visible projects," said Hendricks, "but they definitely help move our college in the right direction, save money and show that we're doing what we can to help solve the world's environmental problems."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

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