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.
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.