D12_264_MGC_Solar_Panels nfs 
Solar Panels on Mary Graydon Center roof, American University, Washington, DC
Solar Panels on Mary Graydon Center roof, American University, Washington, DC

By 2015, American University and George Washington University will be able to draw more than 50 percent of their power from renewable sources, thanks to a partnership finalized today between the two schools. Named the Capital Partners Solar Project, the program unites the universities with George Washington University Hospital (which is aiming to source 32 percent of its electricity through solar power) and will generate energy equivalent to the amount needed to power 8,200 homes. The project will begin breaking ground this summer.

Going solar is a major part of the universities’ goal to become carbon neutral—AU by 2020 and GWU by 2040—as signatories of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. After reaching out to 28 different firms, 19 wind and nine solar, the partnership decided that solar brought in through a grid-integrated project from outside of the region would be the most cost-effective.

When fully operational, the project will draw from three solar farms in North Carolina through Duke Energy Renewables, which is touting solar as a way to add hundreds of jobs to that state’s economy. While the project may come with an initial cost (which the schools declined to name), it also includes provisions that allow for a fixed rate on the electricity used, as well as the ability to sell off any excess that’s generated through the grid.

Meghan Chapple, director of GWU’s Office of Sustainability, says that the project has been in the works since 2010, and with it in place, the university has an opportunity to reach its goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2025. According to Chapple, the partnership with AU was born out of logistical needs—GWU doesn’t have enough roof space to house solar panels (which they ended up outsourcing anyway). GWU will get 70 percent of the energy produced. Chapple added that students should have an opportunity to get a hands-on lesson in sustainable energy through the project.

Although no other area universities will be able to join the closed partnership, all of the players involved hope that the project will lead to other urban institutions using a similar method to address their environmental concern. American University president Neil Kerwin adds, “This can be replicated across the country. Other institutions can directly source large scale renewable solar energy as we did. We hope universities and other organizations will consider this.”

Photo by Jeff Watts, courtesy of American University