Solar canopy serves as energy source on Livingston
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that the solar canopy project would produce about 9 kilowatt hours per year to save more than $1 million annually. The system will produce 9 million kilowatt hours per year, not nine.
Construction crews made way on a 32-acre solar canopy project during the summer that will generate greener energy for the University while simultaneously protecting cars parked on Livingston campus.
The project consists of more than 40,000 solar panels stretched over the Yellow and Green lots as well as Lot 105. The panels will generate eight megawatts of power to satisfy 63 percent of the electrical demand on Livingston campus, according to University Facilities and Capital Planning.
“The solar canopy project came about when it was determined that the existing parking lots needed to be done and that additional parking would be added,” said Michael Kornitas, energy conservation manager for the project. “This was a great opportunity to see if putting solar canopies would be economically viable.”
The $40.8 million solar canopy project will save the University $28 million on fuel costs over a 20-year period, according to the department.
The federal tax incentive and New Jersey’s Solar Renewable Energy Certificates are two government programs that will help subsidize the upfront costs of installing the system, said Antonio Calcado, vice president of Facilities and Capital Planning.
“Without these types of programs, this project would not be economically feasible,” Calcado said.
He said the goal of the project, which was a SunDurance Energy construction financed by Key Equipment Finance, was to lower fuel costs for the University.
“This helps to keep tuition in check as well as fulfill our commitment to using green technology and alternate fuels,” Calcado said.
Joseph Witkowski, director of Utilities Operations, said the department is trying to lead by example and do the best they can to become carbon neutral.
“The purpose was to lower the University’s carbon footprint by continuing to bring renewable clean energy technology on campus,” Witkowski said.
According to Facilities and Capital Planning, the panels use solar photovoltaic technology — one of the cleanest forms of renewable energy technologies — which converts sunlight or solar radiation into electricity.
“The photovoltaic panels absorb sunlight and transform it into electricity,” Calcado said. “This enables us to purchase less electricity and produce lower electricity at our co-generation plant that uses natural gas. Those two components are where the fuel savings are.”
The system will produce about 9 million kilowatt hours per year, Witkowski said, which is a savings of more than $1 million every year.
By mounting the solar canopy on existing parking lots, roads can be saved from wear and tear on the lots and students’ cars are offered protection from the sun, rain and snow, Calcado said.
“For safety reasons there are cameras attached to the canopies, not unlike those now attached to light poles in the parking lots,” he said.
Kornitas said the project not only saves the University money, but also greatly reduces the University’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“This project will have indirect savings and reduction in energy and greenhouse gas in the fact that vehicles parked under the canopies will be much cooler in the summer, which in turn reduces the amount that the air conditioning in cars will have to run to reduce temperature,” he said.
Witkowski said the project provides clean electric power to Livingston campus.
“It will lower our carbon footprint by eliminating 6,364 metric tons of CO2 per year, which is like eliminating 1,248 vehicle emissions,” he said.
Dunbar Birnie, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering who worked on the carbon emissions technology of the project, said the canopy raises the University’s profile in its effort to highlight renewable power generation in connection with commuter transportation in the state and region.
Birnie said he is interested in the intersection of actual device synthesis and how devices are integrated and used as systems.
“Part of my work is on systems where solar is installed and used,” Birnie said. “I have been looking so far without success for a way to engage a population of commuters and study the energy usage, charging patterns, and make recommendations on the business-models that are most effective.”
The project, which will ultimately contain 4,160 parking stalls, is slated for completion in January 2013.