Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Hampshire College Is Powered by Sunshine

The Harold F. Johnson Library. Photo courtesy of Hampshire College.

The Harold F. Johnson Library. Photo courtesy of Hampshire College.

By George Harvey

Back in August of 2016, Green Energy Times (G.E.T.) introduced its readers to an exciting solar project in Amherst, Massachusetts in the article, “Huge Solar … Just in Time for Schools.” () The article led off with a section about a 4.7-megawatt array that was being built at Hampshire College. It has links to two earlier G.E.T. articles that featured sustainability efforts by Hampshire College, making it clear that the college has been working on the issue for some time.

Jonathan Lash, who had been head of the World Resources Institute, became president of Hampshire College in 2011. He immediately set about looking into solar power for the college. In those days, however, costs were too high and efficiency was too low for the project to be economically feasible.

Lash was very much aware of the environmental benefits of solar power. He was also aware of the fact that the price of solar power was declining rapidly. So the college revisited the issue in 2015 and found that the situation had changed. Solar power had become very attractive on a financial basis, and the decision was made to move ahead.

The college had a nearby piece of property that it could use for a solar system. Nineteen acres were used to install the 15,000 solar photovoltaic panels. The project was started in 2016, and it was completed late in 2017.

The array was installed by SolarCity, now a division of Tesla. Design work was provided by Solar Design Associates of Harvard, Massachusetts. One thing that we did not know about when the G.E.T. article ran in 2016 was that the installation would be supported by a number of Tesla batteries to even out loads for the college. The electricity produced is expected to be sufficient for all of the college’s demands.

Under the terms of their contract, SolarCity will manage the solar array for Hampshire College. The college will pay SolarCity for electricity at a fixed rate of six cents per kilowatt-hour. This can be compared to the 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour that Hampshire College has been paying for utility electricity. The contract is good for twenty years.

The savings to Hampshire College are considerable. Though it is not possible to calculate precisely how much the savings are given changing levels of usage and utility rates, Lash expects to save somewhere between $8 million and $10 million for the college.

Though the effect on the utility of having the college provide its own electricity is also not entirely known, Lash has said he believes it may be positive. The college will still be tied to the grid and will buy power from it or provide power to it according to current conditions. This means that with smart handling, the college can supply some power when grid demand is high, reducing the amount of high-cost power the utility will need to buy.

Lash pointed out that students participated in all of the decision making relating to the solar array. The more they are exposed to the design process and the issues of sustainability, the better prepared they will be for the future. And that, after all, is what education is all about.

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