RIT’s New Solar Energy Farm
2-megawatt array among largest for any NY college
RIT has taken another step toward carbon neutrality, using an energy source people don’t always associate with the Rochester region.
A massive 2-megawatt solar energy farm, consisting of 6,138 photovoltaic panels used to generate electricity from the sun, now occupies a transformed farm field south of the RIT campus.
The size of the array, which became operational on April 22, 2015—Earth Day, appropriately—places it among the largest of any college in New York state. Its output—generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 200 homes a year—will be tied directly into RIT’s central substation for distribution across circuits throughout the university’s 1,300 acres.
“Our campus keeps growing, and that places additional burden on our central substation, which is already nearing capacity,” said Tom Garland, lead project engineer for RIT’s Facilities Management Services and who oversaw the array’s construction during sometimes-arctic conditions last winter. “We need to develop alternative energy sources that are going to help us keep our peak power demand down and reduce the load on our transformers.”
Currently, RIT’s main campus consumption is approximately 72 million kilowatt- hours (kWh) annually, according to Garland. The new solar array is expected to produce, on average, 2.3 million kWh per year—or 3.2 percent of the campus’ total. All of the power will be consumed on campus and will not be put back into the grid and sold to the utility company, he added.
“This is a big step for us,” said Enid Cardinal, senior sustainability adviser to RIT President Bill Destler. “As a campus, we’re very large consumers of both electricity and natural gas—both of which have sizable carbon footprints associated with them.”
RIT is collaborating on the project with Solar Liberty out of Buffalo, N.Y. Support for this project came from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY-Sun initiative, which is administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
NY-Sun is a $1 billion initiative to advance the scale-up of solar and move the state closer to having a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry.
The new array farm marks RIT’s sixth solar project on campus. The Golisano Institute for Sustainability has two arrays totaling 40.6 kW, and the University Services Center has a 12.40 kW system. Liberty Hill uses a 10.3 kW array to offset some of the presidential residence’s electrical power. In addition to a small 2 kW array in the College of Applied Science and Technology, a new 16.6 kW array at the College of Health Sciences and Technology also became operational this spring.