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.

By the numbers

  • 2-megawatt solar array farm at RIT can generate enough electricity to power more than 200 homes annually
  • 6,138 photovoltaic panels over 6.5 acres
  • Expected to produce, on average, 2.3 million kilowatt-hours per year—or 3.2 percent of the university’s electricity total.
  • Anticipated to reduce RIT’s carbon footprint by 400 metric tons annually

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.

About solar power

  • Solar panels first appeared on the market in 1956.
  • Although not as effective as on a sunny day, solar energy can still be converted through clouds, producing 10 to 25 percent of its regular capacity.
  • The price of solar power has rapidly decreased in recent years, one of the reasons why more than 60 percent of U.S. solar panels were built and installed during the past three years.
  • Many spacecraft, including the Mars Observer, rely on solar panels for electricity from the sun.
  • The largest solar plant in the world is located in the Mojave Desert, spanning 1,000 acres with a generation capacity of 354 megawatts.

“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.