Database of college solar installation shows surge of activity

The amount of solar installed at college and university campuses in the United States leapt 450 percent from 2008 to 2011.

The Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education announced the finding earlier this month. It recently compiled its masses of information about individual solar installations on campuses across the country in an easy-to-access database that breaks the data down in different ways and makes it easier to analyze.

“While our old static list was useful, we wanted to be able to manage the data,” said Niles Barnes, project coordinator for the association.

What researchers found when they broke the data down was that higher education institutions were going solar in mass.

Only five states—Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey and California—installed more solar capacity than the 52 megawatts installed at U.S. college campuses in 2010.

To date, campuses have installed more than 137 megawatts of solar capacity, which is enough to power 40,000 average American homes. The market for on-campus installations in 2010 was $300 million, and installations at higher education campuses made up 5.4 percent of the total 956 megawatts of the solar installed throughout the country in 2010, according to AASHE’s findings.

“We knew it had been growing,” Barnes said. “Anecdotally, we had all this evidence. But it wasn’t until we were really analyzing the data that we saw how much it was growing.”

AASHE credits a 40 percent drop in the installed cost of solar over the last four years and new financing mechanisms to invest in solar as a way to hedge against rising electricity prices while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We were definitely surprised by what we found,” Barnes said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

The goal behind the new database is that higher education institutions will be able to access the data and look at what other similar schools in similar areas have done and even how they’ve paid for their installation. Having easy access to those success stories should encourage even broader solar adoption on college campuses, Barnes said.

“This is really good information,” he said. “I don’t even think industry folk had this kind of bird’s-eye view.”

Image courtesy of the State University of New York.