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June 04, 2013

Mosaic's Top 15 California Solar Schools

This article originally appeared on Mosaic's blog.

Many colleges and universities have made the smart move to go solar. Solar arrays on California’s colleges and universities are saving millions of dollars in energy costs and preventing millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gases from entering our atmosphere. Solar projects also serve as valuable tools that can educate a new generation of clean energy leaders. Here are 15 California schools that are leading the charge.

University of California, Davis

UC Davis Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 4,616

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: TBD (Image courtesy of UC Davis)

UC Davis recently completed development of their West Village community- the largest planned net zero community in the country. The West Village community includes a 4 megawatt Solar PV system that will power 2,000 of its 3,000 apartment residents. On earth day, the League of American Bicyclists named UC Davis as the first university or college to receive the league’s platinum Bicycle Friendly Business Award which strengthens its claim to the #1 spot in Sierra Club’s “Coolest Schools” ranking.

Butte College

Butte College Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 4,616

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 9,799,470

Cars off the road: 926 (Image Courtesy Greenbang)

When Butte College in Northern California finished the final phase of its solar project in 2011 it became the first grid-positive college in the United States. Butte creates more energy from its 25,000 on-campus solar panels than it consumes in energy use. Beyond its stellar energy creation, Butte also operates several LEED certified buildings and recycles 75 percent of waste materials.

University of San Diego

University of San Diego Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 1,230

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 3,110,943

Cars off the road: 294 (Image courtesy University of San Diego)

In 2010, USD installed 5,000 solar PV panels across 11 campus buildings that generate 1.23 megawatts of energy. Holistically, the project can provide up to 15 percent of campus energy needs. Completion of the project raised USD to the second largest solar energy producing private college in the United States. In 2012, USD was named the “Outstanding Organization of the Year” by California Center for Sustainable Energy.

California Institute of Technology

Cal Tech Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 1,566

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 3,110,943

Cars off the road: 294 (Image courtesy Pasadena Star News)

In 2010, Caltech installed augmented its existing solar arrays with a 1.1 megawatt solar installation across 7 structures including the Braun Athletic Center and Baxter Hall. The new array brought the school to its 1.3 megawatt solar goal and generates 1,646,668kWh per year. Caltech also helped launch the Billion Dollar Green Challenge and was the first school to commit to a green revolving fund for improvements made to the its sustainability profile.

Los Angeles Community College District

Los Angeles College Solar


Total Solar Capacity (KW): 5,378

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 11,199,395

Cars off the road: 1,058 (Image courtesy Los Angeles Community College District)

The LACCD is trailblazing huge advances in campus solar energy projects with projects on their East LA and LA Southwest campuses. Their LA Southwest campus has 4 megawatts of solar PV panels, the second largest campus solar project in the country, shading a 5 acre care port. East Los Angeles College is home to another canopy system, this one 1.2 megawatts. With a large budget focused on sustainability and modernization, the district is also planning the development of dozens of LEED certified buildings.

University of California, Irvine

UC Irvine Solar


Total Solar Capacity (KW): 895

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 2,292,765

Cars off the road: 217 (Image courtesy UC Irvine)

In 2009, UC Irvine installed an 895 kilowatt solar array that will offset 25.6 million pounds of CO2 over the next 20 years. Their new solar panels augmented their 5 LEED certified Gold buildings and dozen campus sustainability groups to grab the #9 spot in Sierra Club’s “Coolest Schools” ranking.

Contra Costa College

Contra Costa College Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 3,200

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 6,221,886

Cars off the road: 629 (Image courtesy Solar Pro Jobs)

Making our list with the third biggest campus solar array in California, Contra Costa College in San Pablo has a 3.2 megawatt system mounted across 34 parking canopies in three of its colleges. This expansive system will produce energy equal to removing 629 cars from the road or planting 636 acres of trees every year.

University of California, San Diego

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 1,185

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 2,986,505

Cars off the road: 282 (Image courtesy of Borrego Solar)

In 2010, UCSD installed 1.2 megawatts of clean energy that can fulfill up to 15 percent of campus energy needs. UCSD plans to expand its solar capacity to 2 megawatts in conjunction with an innovative fuel-cell system that will be the largest on any college campus. Their energy leadership helped UCSD grab the #17 spot on Sierra Club’s “Coolest Schools” ranking.

Stanford University

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 480

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 983,058

Cars off the road: 93 (Image Courtesy National Geographic)

While Stanford doesn't have as much solar capacity as the other schools on our list, researchers at the school continue to make breakthroughs in solar technologies and the school has numerous renewable energy education programs. The Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal named Stanford's new Knight Management Center its "Green Project of the Year" in 2010. The Center's new solar array tripled the school's solar capacity. Stanford was #3 on Sierra Club's Coolest Schools ranking.

University of California, Merced

UC Merced Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 1,000

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 3,577,584

Cars off the road: 338 (Image Courtesy UC Merced)

Established in 2005, UC Merced is the newest school in the UC system. By 2009, they had already completed a 1 megawatt solar power system with 4,900 panels that can provide up to 66 percent of campus energy needs on sunny days. Beyond preventing 60 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and saving the school $5 million over the next 20 years, the array will be utilized as a learning tool for students at the UC Merced Energy Research Institute. With its innovative focus on climate issues, UC Merced earned the #25 on Sierra Club’s “Coolest Schools” ranking.

Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University Solar

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 1,050

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 2,208,770

Cars off the road: 209 (Image Courtesy Santa Clara University)

In 2010, SCU cut the ribbon on their 1,000 kilowatt solar array covering the rooftops of the University’s Leavey Event Center and the Pat Malley Recreation Center. The projects will offset the equivalent of 2.3 million gallons of gasoline over their lifespans. Additionally, SCU’s Benson Memorial Center is home to one of the largest rooftop solar thermal installations in California which will offset 34 tons of CO2. Santa Clara University was #32 on Sierra Club’s “Coolest Schools” ranking.

San Diego Community College District

Total Solar Capacity (KW): 2,800

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 6,967,915

Cars off the road: 658 (Image courtesy Borrego Solar)

SDCCD serves approximately 100,000 students every semester with nearly as many solar panels. Their solar energy systems are the fourth largest of any campus in California with over 2.8 megawatts in capacity. The arrays are installed on shade structures across 5 parking lots and will offset an enormous 132 million pounds of CO2 over the next 30 years.

California State University, Fullerton

Cal State Fullerton Solar

Total Solar Capacity  (KW): 4,080

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 2,488,754

Cars off the road: 235 (Image courtesy California State University, Fullerton)

When CSU Fullerton flipped the switch on its three 1.16 megawatt solar energy system in 2012 it positioned itself to be two-thirds of the way toward independence from the energy grid. The system is installed on three parking garage rooftops across campus that will save the school $9 million over the next 25 years. The innovative system integrates charging stations for electric vehicles, allowing the solar panels to help power transportation.

Napa Valley College

Napa Valley College Solar

 Total Solar Capacity (KW): 1158

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 1,322,774

Cars off the road: 125 (Image courtesy SunPower)

Napa Valley College’s 1.2 megawatt solar array covers 6.5 acres and provides up to 40% of the college’s electricity. The array’s innovative sun tracking system boosts energy production by 20%. The emissions reductions of this project are the equivalent of 46 million miles not driven on California’s highways each year.

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona Solar

Total KW: 1263

Annual lbs of CO2 offset: 2,799,849

Cars off the road: 265 (Image courtesy California State Polytechnic University, Pomona)

Cal Poly Pomona has 4,500 solar panels installed as canopies in a parking structure and on the roof of their Kellogg Gym. The system can produce up to 1.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year. An installation on the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies has allowed the center to go carbon neutral.
Interested in helping your school go solar? Nominate your school to be a part of Mosaic’s Solar Schools program.


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