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Working with Higher Education Institutions to Advance Solar

A key to bringing renewable energy to scale is engaging large institutions. Not only are these institutions large energy customers that can influence local markets, but they often have expertise, space for installations and the ability to handle complex financing. Colleges and universities are one type of large institution helping to drive solar market development in communities across the U.S. Though our work on the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Market Pathways program, ISC is helping these colleges and universities develop new models and approaches that we believe can help drive down the cost of solar energy, reduce GHG emissions and create the workforce for the future clean energy economy.

Teams comprised of more than 20 colleges and universities have been working to move the needle on college and university solar investment. They are addressing barriers and spurring investment in solar deployment by higher education institutions on and off campuses, coordinating collaborative procurement programs and driving down costs by leveraging the expertise of faculty, staff and students – all while creating replicable solar deployment plans and preparing their students for the future job market.

The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia is working to reduce operating costs and demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits of solar deployment through collaborative procurement and installation of at least 30MW of solar PV on private colleges. This more than doubles the current installed capacity for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association is working to build on-campus capacity to deploy solar and to develop a University Roadmap for Solar Investment for use by universities and colleges nationwide.

Our Solar for Colleges and Universities Toolkit helps capture the lessons learned and promising practices from these projects and others, so that more higher education institutions can develop and implement their own solar programs and policies. The toolkit contains resources aimed at helping practitioners take advantage of the benefits of solar energy and further solar deployment on and off campus. From a Sample RFP & Lessons Learned for On-Campus Collaborative Procurement to Non-Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Options to Financing Solar Deployment at Universities and a case study on Luther College: Third-Party, Supporter-Financed Campus Solar, these resources are built to help accelerate solar deployment.

This year, we’re hitting the road to share what we’ve learned and talk with other colleges and universities who are interested in solar deployment. In February, we’ll be at the Second Nature Climate Leadership Summit for the largest national gathering of higher education presidents and chancellors committed to bold climate action. We’ll be sharing strategies for investing in solar, ideas for leveraging solar deployment on campus to create a strong local solar market, collaborative procurement methods, and more with campus sustainability teams, university presidents, faculty and staff.

As the Solar Market Pathways higher ed projects and campuses across the country continue to lower the soft costs, tackle the hurdles and peel off the red tape associated with solar deployment, we’ll continue to help share and replicate their promising practices – an important step toward making solar deployment faster, easier and cheaper. If your campus is interested in solar, check out these resources and contact us if you need ideas about how you might get started!