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UC Merced Hopes to Use Rooftops to Generate Electricity

November 20, 2013

UC Merced is doubling down on its solar commitment.

The campus is looking at installing rooftop solar systems on up to 11 main campus buildings and the chancellor’s residence, moving the campus closer to meeting its Triple Zero commitment and saving money.

A request for proposals was issued in October, and campus planners and sustainability leaders will look at what vendors come up with before making any decisions.

“Through proactive and entrepreneurial efforts such as this, UC Merced can save considerable money and it can move a step further toward its Triple Zero goals,” Vice Chancellor for Business and Administrative Services Michael Reese said.

The systems, which could cover more than half the campus’s buildings, could be up and running by spring, if everything goes as hoped.

The campus has a 1 megawatt solar field just south of the main campus, and provides 15 percent of its annual energy requirement and half of the daily demand on sunny days.

Campus energy experts estimate the project will double the solar energy produced on campus.

Photovoltaic systems on the roofs of 11 campus buildings and the University House would generate more than 1 megawatt of electricity, and demonstrates UC Merced’s commitments to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and to making the campus more energy independent and helping reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, part of the Triple Zero commitment.

The main campus buildings scheduled to get the systems are The Summits student housing; Half Dome student housing; Sierra Terraces student housing; the Student Activities and Athletic Center; the Joseph Edward Gallo Recreation and Wellness Center; the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library; the Academic Office Annex; Classroom and Office Building 1; the Social Sciences and Management Building; Science and Engineering 1; and Facilities Management Building B.

The campus has vowed to consume zero net energy and produce zero waste and zero net emissions by 2020. Sustainability is a major component in campus operations. It’s a way of doing business in everything from the landscaping and the recycled materials used in buildings to purchasing practices.

Director of Energy and Sustainability Zuhair Mased and energy Manager Varick Erickson are excited about the next step in campus sustainability, though.

“Although it’s only our second solar project, it’s just one of many campus projects we have planned to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Mased said.

The project is also a continuation of the partnerships between Facilities and the various departments on campus.  

Some buildings cannot house a solar-energy system. For example, the Central Plant is ineligible because it already has other equipment on its roof. Other buildings, like the new Half Dome residence hall, are built for exactly this kind of development – Half Dome already has the framework for a solar-energy system on its roof. It just needs the panels installed.

In addition to generating electricity, the solar installations will be equipped with sensors to provide the opportunity for research.