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Rutgers Goes Solar

April 7, 2011

The Northeast, where I live, is usually known for its snow, not heat. However, there are quite a few very hot summer days, as my increased electrical usage from air conditioning will attest. In fact, the insolation on a parked car in an open lot can get quite extreme, and there are many times I need to have my parked automobile sit for a few minutes with all its doors open before I can even enter.

Some shopping centers, but not many, have planted trees in their parking lots to help alleviate this problem. The ones that have plant just a few, so there's not universal coverage. They're discouraged from doing more because of the cost, which isn't just the cost of the initial planting. Trees take up space, so the number of parking spaces is reduced. There are also maintenance issues of the trees, themselves, and the damage their roots can cause to the paved surface. There's the further liability of trees and tree branches falling on vehicles and their owners.

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, whose enrollment tops 50,000 across several campuses, has just launched a project that will offer much needed shade for some of its huge parking lots. It will also offer solar power, since the shade will be provided by canopies of solar panels.[1]

Princeton University has a solar project that I reviewed earlier this year.[2] The Princeton project uses vacant land and will serve just as a solar farm. The Rutgers parking lots will still serve their present useful purpose, with the solar power as an added benefit.

The Rutgers $40.8 million, thirty-two acre (13 hectare) project, one of the largest of this type in the US, will have more than 40,000 solar panels that will generate about eight megawatts of power. The generated electricity, valued at $1.2 million annually, is the annual power requirement for about 1,000 homes. Like the Princeton project, the building costs will be handled by an outside company, and the solar farm will be leased back to the university. The outside company has yet to be chosen. The net benefit to Rutgers is estimated to be $28 million over twenty years.[1]

View Larger Map
The wide, open spaces.

The size of the parking lots can be gauged by the size of the adjacent football field.

Map by Google.

Just as in the Princeton project, Rutgers will make full use of many government incentives, such as federal tax breaks; and the New Jersey Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) that I described in the Princeton article.[2] The SRECs, which will be sold by Rutgers to electric utilities, are a way for electric companies to have a renewable energy presence, as required by law.

Rutgers will lease the solar farm for 15 years, after which time it will purchase it for about three and a half million dollars. What utility will remain in a solar farm with fifteen year old technology remains to be seen.

This isn't Rutgers' first venture into solar energy. In 2009, it constructed a solar facility on its Livingston Campus. This solar farm reduced the university's annual carbon footprint by 1,200 tons, and it saves about $220,000 in annual electrical cost.[1] Augmented by this new solar farm, Rutgers' solar energy plant will provide more than 60% of the Livingston Campus electricity. Construction of the parking lot canopy project is expected to start this year and be completed by the summer of 2012.


  1. E.J. Miranda, "Rutgers Board of Governors Approves 32-Acre Solar Canopy Project," Rutgers University Press Release, April 5, 2011.
  2. This Blog, "Solar Power at Princeton University," February 25, 2011.

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