‘Solar Parking’ at Contra Costa Campuses
By Bruce Ross
Whoever thought a parking lot could double as a source of renewable energy? That’s exactly what’s happening today at six parking lots on three campuses of the Contra Costa Community College District (CCCCD) in California.
Installation of photovoltaic panels atop 34 parking lot canopies has created the largest solar power installation at any U.S. college or university. The installation was part of a $200 million modernization and expansion of all three CCCCD campuses.
The district’s quest for energy savings started in mid-2005, when it hired Chevron Energy Solutions, based in San Francisco, to conduct a comprehensive energy audit across all three campuses and the district’s administrative offices.
The audit recommended a number of energy-conserving measures, including upgrading lighting across the campuses to high-efficiency fluorescent tubes and ballasts; improving the energy efficiency of HVAC systems at district offices; and installing energy-miser-monitoring devices on all vending machines on the campuses.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which was looking to subsidize energy savings programs in order to avoid building new power plants, provided a commitment of $287,000 in rebates for the project. The district also took advantage of another PG&E program that provides funding incentives to organizations that generate their own power primarily with solar photovoltaic technologies.
The district engaged Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) to negotiate with Chevron Energy Solutions, oversee design development, coordinate installation with each of the campuses and provide construction managers to ensure the work was done correctly.
“(The district’s) then-Vice Chancellor Jeff Kingston and I put together an application to develop three 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic array systems across the three campuses,” said PB Program Manager Bruce Rich. The result was a commitment of $8.5 million from PG&E for that project. Rich estimates that with the $35 million total cost, minus the $8.5 million utility grant, the payback for the solar element will be 15 years.
Putting Solar Above Fossil Fuel Burners
The parking lot design turned out to be the most practical, economic solution for the solar installation. “We considered putting the panels on top of existing buildings or undeveloped hillside areas, but the parking lots provided a lot of space without taking up any additional real estate,” Rich explained.
According to Rich, the biggest challenge of the solar installation was coordinating construction to avoid disrupting campus life. “We started in the summer, took a break in late August and September when it’s very busy, and then closed small sections of the parking lots at a time,” he said.
The solar panels provide up to 25% of campus power needs – a savings of $70 million in electricity bills over 25 years and a reduction of 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. In addition, parking lots are shaded and lighted more efficiently than before.
The CCCCD’s lighting and solar project was recognized with awards at a University of California/California State University/California Community College Sustainability Conference.
Said Kingston, the former district chancellor: “We were very impressed with PB’s ability to negotiate the complex agreement with the energy services provider; assist us with successfully receiving millions in energy rebates; and efficiently manage a design-build process, which allowed us to obtain a project that meet our budget and design requirements and minimized disruption to campus operations.”
Bruce Ross is a technical writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Abstract from October, 2010