June 12, 2024

University of Michigan to Invest $70M in Campus Solar Arrays

The University of Michigan plans to invest $70 million in solar array installations across its three campuses and surrounding areas, following a vote by the University's Board of Regents.

Campuses to Receive 25 MW from the Project

The project, managed by Houston-based sustainable energy firm Radial Power, is expected to generate 20 megawatts of power for the Ann Arbor campus and an additional five megawatts for the Flint and Dearborn campuses combined.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Shana Weber, associate vice president for campus sustainability, stated that Radial Power was carefully chosen partly due to the firm's keen interest in collaborating closely with faculty and students.

Installation Will Serve as Educational Tools

There are plans for the campus community to use the installation as an educational tool, but the collaboration is still in progress.

Weber said, “There were multiple University of Michigan units involved in the selection. Radial was chosen from 16 firms that responded to that call for proposals as they are interested in partnering, not just to install solar panels, but to engage in the University’s research and teaching missions as well.”

“Part of it will be developing conversations about what faculty and students want to learn from these systems. So how do we install them in a way that there’s easy access to the data there? Maybe there could be a smaller scale more experimental installation somewhere on campus that’s more focused on a research question.” Weber stated.

Off-Campus Community to Also Benefit

The University is attempting to also make sure the purchase benefits the communities surrounding the campuses as well.

Weber said, “Part of the installation job will also include installing solar out in the community, off-campus. That’s one of the things that we’re very committed to — how we demonstrate a transition to renewable energy while also making sure that the broader community benefits as well.”

The University’s Goal Is to Achieve Carbon Neutrality

The installation is a significant step towards the University’s goal of achieving complete carbon neutrality by 2040.

In an interview with The Daily, University Regent Paul Brown said, “The goal of being carbon neutral by 2040 is a very optimistic goal, and we are such a sprawling institution that it’s going to take every strategy in the book to achieve that goal. We are also using geothermal energy in many of our buildings, but that and solar energy won’t be the only two. We will have to be creative and employ as many strategies as we can to achieve that goal.”

LSA junior Hailey Kempf, president of the professional environmental fraternity Epsilon Eta, told The Daily that the goal of carbon neutrality is especially important today because it will help combat climate change.

"Carbon neutrality is crucial, particularly in this era of heightened concern about climate change. It matters because much of our energy comes from fossil fuels, which release significant amounts of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Cleaner energy sources like solar power can lower our carbon emissions and potentially help reduce the greenhouse gases driving climate change," Kempf explained.

Brown emphasized the University’s commitment to setting an example for others both nationally and internationally in finding effective solutions for climate change.

"In considering 'if not here, where, if not now, when,' we fully embrace these questions. As an institution, we are dedicated to leading by example, particularly in addressing climate change, recognized as one of humanity's greatest challenges. Our aim is to be a pioneer and set a precedent for other institutions worldwide in tackling this issue." Brown stated.

The University of Michigan's investment in solar array installations marks a significant stride towards sustainability and carbon neutrality. By partnering with Radial Power and engaging faculty, students, and surrounding communities, the university demonstrates its commitment to not only reducing carbon emissions but also fostering innovation and education in renewable energy. With goals set for the future, the university is poised to lead by example in addressing climate change, inspiring others to follow suit in creating a more sustainable and resilient future for generations to come.

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