4.75 MW Solar Energy Project at CSU Long Beach
Having been on an exponential growth curve for over two decades, photovoltaic (PV) solar has evolved from a niche market of mostly small installations to a mainstream renewable energy source. The adoption of PV technology is now increasingly supported by innovative finance approaches such as the power purchase agreements (PPAs) being implemented in many California campuses. At California State University, Long Beach, a 4.75 MW solar energy installation is now the largest in the CSU system, enabled through a 20-year PPA that covered the full installation cost and allows the campus to reap sustainability and cost benefits with few up-front costs.
This new solar system is a large step toward meeting CSULB’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2014, having a goal of climate neutrality by 2030.
The project expanded the number of EV charging stations by 40 spaces.
The project required over two years to complete: from the release of the RFP in December of 2015, working through vendor selection, design and installation, to fully functioning system in February of 2018. The process was a collaboration of campus actors, city planning groups, and the solar system provider SunPower. Financing was via a PPA with SunPower, who covered the initial costs of design, installation, and maintenance, with no equipment cost to the campus. Under the agreement, CSU Long Beach will purchase the energy generated at a $0.135 per kilowatt-hour over the life of the contract. It is estimated that with the fluctuating cost of power, the fixed rate provided by SunPower will provide cost-saving opportunities over the life of the project. The project also qualified for incentives from Southern California Edison under a program that supports local energy generation and storage projects in areas previously served by the closed San Onofre nuclear power plant. To further the campus’ progress toward its Climate Action Plan goals, the renewable energy credits were retained by campus.
Sustainability-themed signage helps users remember car locations.
The project’s eleven-thousand solar panels were installed on the south-facing sides of carports above two existing parking areas, providing shade to keep vehicles cooler and also reduce the heat island effect from the parking lot surfaces. The system will provide one-third of the campus’ peak daily load, and 15 percent of its annual energy use. The awning bases include 20 dual charging stations, increasing the campus count for charging stations from 4 to 44.
Several campus groups participated in the planning and design of the project. Students from an Environmental Science and Policy class studied ways to green existing parking lots, looking at possibilities for electric vehicle (EV) charging, drought tolerant plants, pedestrian and bike ways, bioswales, and signage for education and wayfinding. Students in a weekend MBA program researched funding alternatives for renewable solar power.
The PV project is not far from the iconic Walter Pyramid sporting arena.
The campus has worked to leverage the awareness of the project. The project is highly visible due to its scale and location, and includes sustainability-themed signage using parking area names such as “Protect Oceans” or “Restore Wetlands.” The systems have been added to campus tours, demonstrating CSULB’s commitment to sustainability to prospective students and visitors. Lastly, by involving Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia in the ribbon cutting event, the campus generated significant media coverage around the project.
As the first of its kind in the CSU system both in terms of financing and scale, several challenges presented themselves and valuable lessons were learned. The novelty of this project led to an occasional lack of clarity on design considerations, including architectural details, landscaping, stormwater drainage, connection and metering requirements, and power distribution components. Finally, scheduling proved to be a challenge. Not only was the timeframe of the project short in proportion to its size, but staging of key steps correctly was challenging given the large number of actors. In retrospect, planning for future operations and maintenance (such as battery storage and planning for future increased electric vehicle capacity) could have been prioritized at earlier stages in the project. By sharing lessons learned from these challenges, the project team hopes to assist other CSU campuses planning to implement similar cost-effective renewable energy solutions.
Images coutesy of CSULB.