The Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) aims to have the University of Illinois carbon neutral by 2050. One strategy outlined in the plan is to invest in renewable energy technology. And perhaps the best type of renewable energy is solar energy, which is what the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) has petitioned for. Initial efforts included solar panels at the Business Instructional Facility (BIF) and a solar heating unit at the ARC. But these 2 locations only generate about 14-33 kilowatts, hardly enough to make much of a difference compared to UIUC’s total energy needs. So to greatly improve UIUC’s renewable energy program, the SSC provided $1.05M for the project, along with $4M from the campus utilities budget. The most impressive accomplishment is a brand-new solar farm – a 20.8 acre array of solar panels just off of Neil Street which provides clean electricity exclusively for the University of Illinois. This solar farm also happens to be the largest at any American University. Construction was intended to begin in 2013, but state delays slowed down this process to July 2015. Assembling the solar panels was finished in October. Now that construction has finished, UIUC will soon start to reap the benefits of solar energy. The Solar farm was just connected to the Urbana campus electrical system on November 12th, and it is expected to go live in December.
According to Morgan Johnston, the Director of Sustainability at Facilities and Services, “Currently emissions from purchased electricity are 164,866 metric-tons per year of greenhouse gases in carbon-dioxide equivalent (MT eCO2/ year), as of fiscal year 2014. After the Solar Farm is live, the emissions should go down to 158,429 MT eCO2/year, for a reduction of 6,437 MT eCO2,” which is a 4% decrease in CO2 emissions. “For the expected 20 year lifespan, the cost of solar energy from the farm will be about $15.5 million dollars,” says Morgan Johnston. While this is about $5 million dollars more than the conventional energy. Of course, people have mixed opinions about this, feeling that the money being spent on solar energy should go to public schools or other ventures. With solar technology improving, it is only a small amount of time until large scale solar energy is cheaper than other means.