CSUEB’s Solar Energy Project: What’s Next for the Campus?

The City of Santa Barbara, California, United States of America, is world-famous for its beautiful weather and laidback lifestyle, but did you know that it is home to some of the most innovative educational institutions in the world?

One of those educational institutions is the prestigious California State University, East Bay (CSUEB).[1] What was once a tiny campus, located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, has grown into a thriving institution, with a diverse student body and an incredibly successful alumni network.

Many students and alumni credit their education to CSUEB, which offers a range of bachelors and masters degrees in subject areas such as business, science, and engineering, as well as doctoral degrees in physical therapy and social work. You can even study in English for your Bachelor’s degree at the publicly funded university.

CSUEB is also well-known for its innovative research and community-engagement programs. The institution boasts a thriving business school and has been ranked in the top 15 of national universities in the United States by the magazine, U.S. News & World Report. Some of CSUEB’s current research focuses include energy and environmental sustainability, health sciences, and transportation engineering. This year alone, the business school at the university was rated second in the nation by the magazine, Entrepreneur.

Last year, CSUEB became one of the first universities to commit to 100% renewable energy, and it is now powered entirely by solar energy. The CSUEB Solar Energy Project is a $40 million solar array that was made possible by a $20 million grant from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and a matching $20 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC). The four-year, $100 million project is now the largest of its kindinNorth America.

When you think about energy, arguably the last thing that comes to mind is “shade”, but did you know that your morning coffee might be destroying the environment?

In the summer of 2018, the campus of CSUEB was completely immersed in a sea of sunshine, with all the lamps and lights being turned on throughout the day. With zero energy consumption, there was no need for annoying electrical appliances such as kettles and hairdryers, so the campus life felt a little different. The solar farm’s 1.7 million panels provide sufficient energy for the entire university campus, and it reduces the amount of fossil fuels that would have been required to generate the same amount of electricity.

Before the solar farm, the campus had to purchase electricity from the grid, meaning that there was always a chance that the electricity would not be available, or would cost more.

How has the institution embraced renewable energy?

On the very first day that the solar farm was switched on, there was an incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment. The entire university community was able to witness firsthand how clean and green energy can be. The installation of solar panels not only reduces the university’s carbon footprint but also provides a steady supply of electricity to power the campus.

The students, faculty, and staff were also able to view the evolution of the solar farm from a technological standpoint. The project has been ongoing for four years, and the team of students and scientists that have been involved in its design and construction have been able to watch and learn a great deal about solar energy. This aspect of the project has really helped establish CSUEB as a leader in sustainable energy and climate change solutions. As Professor Emeritus Donald J. Sadoway states in the university’s annual report:

“With this project, we have established California State University, East Bay as a model of how a public university can successfully implement an on-site solar energy system that is owned and operated by the university. The success of this effort has encouraged other California State Universities to consider similar actions.”

Sadoway also highlights the economic benefits of the project, remarking that:

“The installed photovoltaic system at CSUEB will generate $1.3 million in annual revenue, which will be recovered through lease payments on a rooftop solar farm. In addition, the project has created 40 jobs, all of which are related to the new university community that was established as a result of the redevelopment.”

What’s Next?

While the solar farm has greatly improved the quality of life for students, staff, and faculty at the university, there is still more work to be done. As we’ve mentioned, there is a sizable economic incentive for universities to switch to renewable energy, but beyond the financial benefits, there is also the pride that comes with generating your own clean energy. This could pave the way for other UC and CSU campuses to follow suit and establish a paradigm shift in the way that they produce and consume energy.

CSUEB is already taking action to prepare for the future. Instead of purchasing electricity from the grid, the institution has decided to become a net energy consumer, meaning that they will generate more energy than they need. This innovative approach has enabled them to save a considerable amount of money and has also allowed them to avoid purchasing new appliances and furniture, which are now second-hand items from previous university moves. Furthermore, the institution has established an energy club, with the aim of educating the community about their mission and the ways in which they are working to reduce their carbon footprint. The energy club hosts regular events, such as movie nights and themed dinners, where scientists, engineers, and other interesting individuals from the public and private sectors can speak about issues related to energy and sustainability.

Also in the works is an on-campus food truck park. The idea behind the food truck park is to provide healthy and organic food options to students and staff, as well as to engage the local community. The food trucks are visible sources of food that are open to the general public, so more people will likely try the food truck items than the regular cafeteria options. There is also talk of establishing a bicycle share program so that staff, students, and others can borrow bikes to get around campus more easily. These bikes will then be returned at the end of the day so that they can be ridden by someone else. The university also provides a shuttle service between the various parts of campus for those who do not have a car. These measures will not only provide a healthier option for students but will also reduce motor vehicle emissions and the amount of fossil fuels that are burned.

Even with all these efforts, there is still a long way to go before the university is carbon-neutral. In the meantime, the solar farm has provided a steady source of green energy and has helped to improve the quality of life for everyone on campus.

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