The 18.5-acre solar farm will be built adjacent to Highway 1 on the western side of the Cal Poly campus | Rendering by REC Solar

Cal Poly will break ground this summer on the largest single solar array in the California State University (CSU) system. It will generate up to 25 percent of the university’s power, according to Cal Poly Sustainability.

The 18.5-acre solar farm will be built adjacent to Highway 1 on the western side of campus. The project, scheduled for completion by Winter 2017, will include more than 16,000 individual solar panels, generating enough energy to power the equivalent of 1,000 homes, according to Cal Poly Sustainability.

The solar farm will use advanced tracking technology to follow the sun across the sky, producing about 30 percent more energy than a stationary system.

The energy produced by the solar farm will result in direct savings on Cal Poly’s utility bills, totaling about $17 million in 20 years. The solar farm will be financed, designed, constructed and maintained by local company REC Solar through a power purchase agreement. This allows Cal Poly to purchase the solar energy at a lower rate than from the grid, without paying for the system construction and maintenance, according to Cal Poly Sustainability.

REC Solar’s San Luis Obispo roots are tied to its two co-founders, Judy Ledford and Fred Sisson, who graduated from Cal Poly with the goal of making solar systems a mainstream energy source for home owners.

On Earth Day 2016, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong signed the Second Nature Climate Leadership Commitment to take the university beyond this goal and reach full climate neutrality by 2050, meaning net zero emissions from all sources.

“This is the first major energy project Cal Poly has undertaken since we committed to achieving climate neutrality,” Director of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability Dennis Elliot said. “This is a huge step toward our goal.”

Rendering by REC Solar

The project will also incorporate a solar engineering laboratory for students to conduct experiments with solar technology in a hands-on environment. A wide variety of performance data will be continuously measured and made available through a web-based dashboard to aid in solar technology research.

“I think that with the commercial direction the solar market is heading, having the lab will be a super valuable resource,” electrical engineering graduate student Maxwell Muscarella said.

The lab curriculum will integrate solar photovoltaic fundamentals into a variety of science and engineering courses and create new courses for renewable energy system design.

“The lab will be a place where students can explore the latest technology in solar, like inverters and various modules, in a hands-on environment,” Garrett Colburn, Director of Marketing, Communications and Demand Generation at REC Solar, said.

In addition, Cal Poly’s animal science program will use the site to research vegetation management practices for utility scale solar farms while grazing the site with its sheep herd.

“We hope this solar farm sets the standard for how these infrastructure projects can support the university’s academic mission, and we are proud to be doing so with a local company with such strong ties to Cal Poly,” Elliott said.

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