Solar PV helps colleges and universities monetize infrastructure | Centrica Business Solutions
How can colleges and universities monetize campus infrastructure?
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How can colleges and universities monetize campus infrastructure?

Installing a solar PV system can enable higher education institutions to maximize value from existing campus infrastructure like rooftops, parking lots, and grounds.

Higher education institutions across the country are taking steps to mitigate their carbon emissions and embed sustainability across their facilities and operations. They are developing sustainability and carbon reduction roadmaps, disclosing carbon emissions, and receiving public recognition for their achievements. According to the EPA, more than 40 colleges and universities already obtain 100% or more of their electricity from renewable energy sources. Over 1,000 institutions are measuring their sustainability performance with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

There is a reason why colleges and universities are taking sustainability seriously. In today’s competitive landscape, a large carbon footprint is a deterrent to attracting students. And student opinions matter – a Princeton Review study found that 75% of applicants say that a college’s commitment to the environment would affect their decision to attend that college.

To remain competitive, colleges and universities need to take a hard look at their infrastructure to boost the sustainability of their campus to reach carbon reduction targets. This priority requires a comprehensive approach that considers all aspects of campus infrastructure – and how infrastructure improvements and energy asset upgrades interact in complex ways to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Increasing energy efficiency is one tactic. Upgrading lighting to LED, replacing inefficient HVAC systems with modern equipment, implementing building automation systems to optimize energy usage, and increasing water efficiency are all necessary measures. They reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions and conserve natural resources. However, once efficiency measures are identified and implemented, another key tactic is to offset a percentage of grid consumption by generating clean energy on-site.

Unlocking value from infrastructure with solar PV

Many colleges and universities have existing parts of their infrastructure that they can transform into sources of on-site energy generation. Of course, this depends on several factors like the campus layout and where the institution is located (city versus suburban, for example). Still, large spaces like rooftops, parking lots, or empty ground spaces can be appropriate locations to install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system.

By installing solar PV panels, colleges and universities can unlock value from their rooftops, parking lots, and campus grounds and visually demonstrate their commitment to the environment and a sustainable future. Installing solar PV panels delivers energy cost and carbon savings by offsetting a percentage of the site’s energy consumption from the grid with lower-cost, on-site generated renewable energy instead. Institutions can lock in a predictable energy rate for the lifetime of the solar PV system, enabling them to better forecast energy spending and operating expenses. In addition, they can positively contribute to the climate crisis and boost their sustainability credentials, as energy produced from solar PV technology doesn’t emit CO2 or other harmful greenhouse gases.

Generating renewable energy on-site instead of consuming energy from the grid makes solar an attractive solution for institutions to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions. Another aspect that makes solar an attractive solution is participating in net metering, which enables institutions to monetize their assets.

How net metering benefits colleges and universities

One of the key drivers for solar adoption across the U.S. has been strong net metering policies at the state level. Solar incentive programs like net metering are designed to “incentivize” the adoption of solar PV systems. Generally, the earlier you adopt solar, the more lucrative the benefits – and the sooner you can begin reducing your grid consumption and offsetting it with less expensive, on-site generated renewable technology.

Net metering is a valuable solar incentive because, unlike solar tax credits that provide valuable one-time benefits, net metering delivers ongoing dividends over the lifetime of a solar PV installation. Net metering is a billing mechanism available in many states that credits higher education institutions who install solar PV for excess solar electricity that their solar PV system generates and sends back to the grid. While net metering programs vary from state to state, the overall process is straightforward.

Here’s how net metering works:

  1. The institution sends their excess solar electricity to the grid – this usually happens when their solar PV system is generating more electricity than is being consumed at the campus or when excess energy isn’t being stored in a battery energy storage system.
  2. The institution receives payment from their utility company for this excess solar energy in the form of bill credits that are applied to their monthly electric utility bill, lowering their future energy costs and operating expenses.

Net metering can help to speed up the payback period from installing a solar PV system by providing a continuous stream of credits month after month that – in combination with reduced grid consumption by implementing energy efficiency measures and generating renewable energy on-site – lower future electricity bills from the grid. That’s that much more energy cost savings that colleges and universities can invest in other areas of their campus.

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Integrating solar into your campus energy strategy

While solar is an attractive energy generation solution, colleges and universities must consider where installing solar fits into their overall strategy. For instance, it is essential to understand the scope of available energy infrastructure upgrades to help you reach your sustainability goals. It is also important to understand how the components interact with each other to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions to deliver maximum impact.

For instance, installing a solar PV system without first addressing energy conservation measures will not yield the most cost-effective solar PV system. The system would be oversized for the energy needs of the site. In addition, under various financing mechanisms, energy savings from energy conservation and efficiency measures may even pay for renewable technologies like solar PV, funding the cost of installation and even enabling a net neutral project. Nobody likes to spend more – addressing energy conservation first enables more advanced technologies like solar PV to be right-sized for the site’s energy needs.

Solar can be a valuable component of a comprehensive energy strategy and can serve as a launch pad for additional energy infrastructure improvements for your campus, such as:

  • Battery storage – by combining solar PV and battery storage, institutions can charge their batteries with solar energy and utilize the stored energy during peak price periods, generating cost savings through peak shaving to support demand charge management, as well as time-of-use cost-shifting to reduce energy charges.
  • EV charging – installing EV charging infrastructure is a great way to add value to your campus and can even be an additional source of revenue. However, it does involve an increase in energy site load – energy requirements can be met by generating and storing renewable energy on-site.
  • Microgrids – a resilient energy supply is becoming more critical for institutions, and traditional sources of resilience are not sustainable or environmentally friendly. However, microgrids that include a solar PV system, battery storage, and generators are a modern, more forward-focused solution to meeting resilience needs.

Getting started

Partnering with an Energy Service Company (ESCO) like Centrica Business Solutions can help your institution navigate the complexity of implementing multiple technologies, ensure proper deployment to fully maximize infrastructure, and take advantage of all available opportunities like net metering. We follow a ‘cut, convert, complete’ approach to energy implementation, focusing on energy conservation before energy generation. We then help you fulfill any remaining carbon reduction needs or energy requirements with additional solutions like microgrids, carbon offset programs, or virtual power purchase agreements.

We will work with you to deliver a comprehensive energy strategy that fully maximizes your campus infrastructure and helps your institution reduce the daily cost of operational processes and meet sustainability goals. We can help you transform existing assets – rooftops, grounds, or parking lots – into sources of on-site renewable energy generation and leverage incentives like net metering to drive cost savings further. We support you at every step of your journey, from understanding your energy goals to optimizing your solution for your available space. We customize every solution to your needs to maximize efficiencies, energy generation, and savings.

Contact our team today to get started. We will perform a feasibility study and work with you to identify areas for energy and infrastructure improvement, scope what solutions and technologies to implement to maximize infrastructure and define a roadmap.