Phil and I just attended the “Great Green Ideas for Brandeis and Beyond” event in the new Shapiro Science Center. The big news: Brandeis has given the go-ahead for a large solar array to go up on Gosman roof. I find this a bit ironic, considering that last year, a proposal to build a smaller solar array with Student Union rollover money was nixed in favor of a new weight room for Gosman. (now we get both, in the same place!) Anyways, the array, consisting of 1383 individual panels covering the Southwest and Southeast sides of the building, will provide 277 kW of energy each year (between 1/6 and 1/4 of a utility-scale wind turbine.) This is expected to prevent 122 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, and provide approximately 10% of the electricity needs of Gosman. Construction should begin in November.

We’re not there yet, but this is a significant step towards the 15% reduction in emissions over the next five years targeted by the University’s new climate plan. We’ll need to do a lot more to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, but when combined with Pres. Reinharz’ suggestion at the event to seed the campus with Vespas, solar panels could go a long way.

How will we pay for all this silicon, you ask? Simply put, we won’t, because we won’t actually be buying the solar array. Rather, we’ve signed a 20-year contract with EOS ventures. They’ll provide the upfront cost of the array, and have contracted with the Boston firm Alteris Renewables to build the array and prepare the roof. In return, we’ll be buying the electricity produced every year at a predetermined rate which rises slowly each year. Initially, this solar energy will start off as more expensive than conventional fossil fuel energy purchased through the ordinary power utility. But if fossil fuel costs rise at projected rates (one assumes the projections used are those of EOS), the solar energy will quickly become cheaper. I was told by an EOS representative that after 20 years, we will hopefully have saved $820,000 in energy costs.

A good deal of credit for this venture goes to Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, the sustainability coordinator of the University. Though some were initially skeptical of allowing a private firm to own equipment on the Gosman roof, the projected energy savings and environmental good were enough to win over the skeptics. Long-term creative payment schemes like this are the future of renewable energy, and Brandeis is leading the way.

Adds Phil:

The placement of the panels on Gosman was a smart choice, not only for its solar orientation but for visibility.  Unlike most buildings on campus, Gosman has a pitched roof, so people on and passing through campus will be well aware of the panels.  They will be visible from both South St (inbound to Waltham) and the Commuter Rail.  Our committment to sustainability won’t go unnoticed.

6 comments on “Brandeis contracts huge solar array for Gosman roof!”

  1. Art Says:

    THIS I wholeheartedly support. In regards to freshman year’s 100K discretionary fund, I didn’t know that the solar panels were the best use of that money. This venture is as smart environmentally as it is economically.

  2. ANMNB Says:

    Is this a Lease to Own?

  3. Loki Says:

    No, I don’t believe so. A lease to own would be a situation where we “buy” the solar array over many years through saved energy costs and continue paying regular electric rates. I believe EOS will continue to own the solar array after the 20-year contract… just as one can sell mining rights, I think Brandeis sold solar-roof rights. I’m not positive, however.

  4. Comrade Says:

    So, I talked with the Alterias rep. and he believed that at the end of the 20-year contract, that EOS will continue to own the array, and that through re-negotiations Brandeis may purchase the array, have it removed, or continue to pay for energy…

  5. Susan Says:

    Yup, EOS will own the arrays unless Brandeis decides to purchase them at the end of our contract. If the fiscal projections are accurate, it would make a lot of sense (granted we get out of this endowment mess) for Brandeis to purchase them and seriously start saving on energy costs…

  6. Janna Says:

    Janna here- that all sounds right. We may have an option to buy the system after a specified time (I believe over 10-15 years) but there are pros/cons each way with owning the system- so we will see what happens in a long time off. The system should be up by the end of the year- so that will be very quick!

    Also to point out- a group of students from SEA and elsewhere were determined to have solar- and I was honestly skeptical of a PPA at first- since to be clear we are not “keeping” the carbon credits- they go to the owner of the system. However after learning more I realized there were so many benefits to a solar PPA (seriously thanks for the pushing)- and was happily surprised that Gosman could really house a substantial system not just a “display model”. Even if we can’t claim the carbon reduction- someone else can- and we are helping support renewables in a very serious way- plus educate the community. The thanks then really goes to Mark Collins, Peter Baker, and Bill Bushey and many others in Facilities for working out all the technical details and hurdles, and willing to do something very new and exciting.