Ryan Chartrand

Cal Poly recently installed 1,000 solar panels on top of the Engineering West building that will save the university $5,000 per year in electricity costs.

The 14,000 square-foot system, the largest in San Luis Obispo County, will power 25 percent of the building, which was chosen for its flat roof and good sun exposure. It will also reduce Cal Poly’s emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

The solar photovoltaic panels (PV) produce 148,000 kilowatts per hour and 250,000 kilowatt hours per year, about enough to power 25 homes for a year.

“It was very interesting and very challenging because it’s the first time we’ve ever done a solar PV project and it was a fairly large one. It’s fun because you feel you’re doing some good for the university, the students and the environment,” said Dennis Elliot, manager of engineering and utilities and project manager for the development.

Though the system will be able to power less than one percent of Cal Poly, Elliot said it’s a start.

“This was kind of a pilot project for us to learn the ins and outs and learn solar PV application and how to use them best for our campus. We’re hoping that this will be a successful demonstration project and that we’ll be able to do more,” Elliot said.

The system will also be used as a learning tool for engineering and architecture students.

“Solar PV is the technology of the future and Cal Poly is one of the leading engineering and architecture schools in the country. Now we have a full scale system that students can see and learn from,” Elliot said.

The project is part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Green Building Initiative to reduce energy use at major state-owned facilities by 20 percent. Three other state universities at Chico, Dominguez Hills and San Bernadino also participated in the project.

SunEdison, a company that installs solar panels throughout California, funded the project. The company designed and built the system and will also own and operate it. Cal Poly will in turn buy electricity from the company. The CSU Chancellor’s office, the California Department of General Services and Pacific Gas Electric also partnered with Cal Poly for the project.

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