Solar panel project reduces DU’s carbon footprint

Colorado’s famed 300 days of sunshine are pulling double duty at DU. In addition to providing a bright background for studying and play, the sun’s rays will energize campus in a new way.   

That’s thanks to a new solar panel project, which now covers 18 of DU’s 88 roofs across campus, including its most recent additions, the Burwell Center for Career Achievement and the Dimond Family Residential Village. These solar panels will be responsible for as much as 8% of DU’s total energy production.

Since first outlining its 25 sustainability goals to achieve by 2025, DU has made great strides. For the last two years, DU has surpassed its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 24%. Chad King, executive director of sustainability, says the University targeted efficiency first, changing out light bulbs for LED alternatives, reducing heating and cooling through smarter occupancy settings, and educating the community. In 2018, these efforts brought DU’s carbon footprint down by a whopping 38%. To push the envelope further, renewable energy was the natural next step. 

“We knew that in order to get to our carbon neutrality goal that we would have to, at some point, have renewables either on campus or off,” King says. “We also knew from the beginning that we wanted to be authentic in how we did renewables. We didn’t want to just buy carbon offsets or do some sort of tricky deal where we buy solar and then sell the offsets and buy cheaper offsets.” 

The conversation around bringing solar energy to DU started in 2014 with the help of a now-defunct student group called DU Solar and law professor KK DuVivier. While the student group pushed from one direction, DuVivier and a class full of students exploring community renewable proposals pushed from another, presenting their findings to DU’s sustainability leaders. 

Subsequently, King and others began exploring opportunities to make DU’s solar dreams a reality. Solar panel installation began in May 2019 and was completed in fall 2020. The energy harnessed by each panel feeds directly into the buildings, with a small extra boost
from two “solar trees”—decorative panel displays positioned outside the Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science and, in the coming weeks, the Shwayder Art Building. 

Along with the panels, DU will get access to energy data through dashboards reporting information from each building. “We get data about how much solar is being produced and how much electricity the whole building is utilizing, King says. “That allows us to get a much better idea of the energy profile of the buildings and [to] better project what other improvements and behavioral changes could do.”

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