March 22, 2024

In the transition to solar power, the University of Pennsylvania leads the Ivy League

The University of Pennsylvania has acquired two sizable solar farms in central Pennsylvania's Fulton and Franklin counties, with solar power of a combined capacity of 220 MW, as a step towards their aim of becoming 100% carbon neutral by 2042.

The 220 MW solar farm, with 485,000 solar panels, came operational in December 2023, making the two sites the biggest solar project in the state.

Why Solar Power?

The University of Pennsylvania, part of the prestigious Ivy League, distinguishes itself not only through education but also with extensive healthcare facilities.

The combined energy consumption of its educational and healthcare facilities is approximately 300 MW, comparable to a third of the output of an average-sized nuclear power plant.

The University of Pennsylvania has secured the entire output of the Great Cove I and Great Cove II solar farms, through a power purchase agreement signed with Community Energy in February 2020.

The University of Pennsylvania pays AES for electricity generated by the Great Cove solar project and receives solar renewable energy credits, with AES selling the power to PJM.

This initiative, operational at full capacity by February 2024, significantly advances the university's aim of achieving 100% carbon neutrality for its Philadelphia-area facilities by 2042.

Interim President J. Larry Jameson expressed pride in the University of Pennsylvania's rapid progress towards carbon neutrality emphasizing the significance for both the university and the city of Philadelphia during Energy Week.

Anne Papageorge, senior vice president of facilities and real estate services, highlighted the partnership with AES as crucial for accelerating the university's adoption of renewable energy, commending the agreement's alignment with the institution's mission and leadership on climate action.

Walter Crenshaw, senior director of origination at AES, emphasized the importance of Penn's commitment and leadership in driving renewable energy initiatives.

How the Solar Power Journey Began

Former Penn president Amy Gutmann signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, leading to the formation of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee.

Penn released its initial Climate Action Plan in 2009, aiming for carbon neutrality. Now operating under the Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0, Penn aims for carbon neutrality by 2042.

William Braham, a professor, highlighted the need to expand renewable energy beyond buildings, leading Penn to consider increasing its solar energy usage to 70% after realizing cost-saving potential alongside environmental benefits.

In 2019, after reviewing proposals from 30 developers, Ben Suplick, director of engineering and energy planning at the university, narrowed down the options to three companies.

Community Energy, now AES, was selected based on factors like location, cost, and confidence in project completion. Construction occurred between April 2022 and November 2023, with AES installing over 50 miles of cabling underground.

Despite supply chain challenges, AES adapted its approach, showcasing creativity and flexibility in completing the project.

The University of Pennsylvania's commitment to sustainable energy not only meets carbon reduction goals but also educates students and staff about the importance of sustainability.

This move, which will prevent 130,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually for over 25 years, showcases the power of educational institutions leading by example.

Urging other colleges and universities to follow suit, the message is clear: true education not only discusses but also actively implements solutions for a just and sustainable society.

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