Newly-installed solar panel canopies located in Rutgers University parking lots behind the College Avenue Student Center. Credit: Julia Gokalp / New Brunswick Today

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—At Rutgers University, a solar power project more than a year in the making has been completed and is now producing more electricity than expected.

Solar arrays–groups of solar panels–have been installed above parking lots at 16 locations across its campuses, as well as at the university’s office of Institutional Planning and Operations (IP&O) in Piscataway, which spearheaded the project.

On February 22, in the parking lots along Dudley Road on the Cook/Douglass campus, the final phase of the project began producing electricity, according to Michael Kornitas, IP&O’s Director of Sustainability and Energy.

According to Rutgers, these “solar canopies” are expected to produce about 14.5 MW of electricity and deliver 17.6 million kilowatt-hours, just above 3% of the university’s energy consumption.

Rutgers licensed DSD Renewables, a company based in Schenectady, New York, to construct the canopies through a power purchase agreement (PPA), which ensured that Rutgers would pay no upfront cost for construction. 

Per the agreement, DSD designed and built the arrays, and now they operate and maintain them. In exchange, the university purchases the generated electricity at a fixed rate. Since this cost will be much lower than the current cost of electricity, the project is expected to save Rutgers millions of dollars.

Though the projects were all supposed to be online by December, a university spokesperson said in January the university was “waiting for some code issues to be finalized” before the last set of arrays would become operational.

Now, the panels are producing more electricity than the university can use at times, according to Angela Oberg, the head of the Rutgers University Office of Climate Action.

“One of the things that we realized is that they’re overproducing, which is a wonderful problem to have,” Oberg told the New Brunswick Environmental Commission on March 18.

Oberg said that, rather than allow the extra energy generated go to waste, Rutgers is “looking at installing batteries to store it… to use later when the sun is down and we’re underproducing.”

It’s not the first time Rutgers has looked to harness solar energy on campus.

In 2009, after the completion of a similar, seven-acre canopy project on Rutgers’ Livingston Campus in Piscataway, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced the university as the winner of the Energy Educator of the Year award.

An additional 32-acre canopy project was later completed in 2012, also on the Livingston campus.

The solar canopies have several prospective benefits beyond financial and environmental areas.

Among them is lessening the “urban heat island effect” – when a built-up area experiences higher temperatures as a result of its materials, such as brick or asphalt, absorbing heat.

Instead, the solar energy that would otherwise heat up Rutgers parking lots is being used to power its facilities.  The canopies have the added bonus of protecting cars in the 17 parking lots from snowfall and sun exposure.

Holloway and the Solar Project Team gather in front of solar canopies at the festival.
Nick Romanenko / Rutgers University

In October, students, faculty, and staff celebrated progress on the project at a solar festival by the solar canopy at the College Avenue Student Center.

Organized by the Office of Climate Action, the event included music, a food truck, and notable speakers, including the university’s president, Jonathan Holloway. With enthusiastic optimism, speakers discussed the state of the project, the commitment to improving sustainability, and hopes for the future.

This latest environmental initiative is in keeping with Rutgers’ Climate Action Plan, written in 2021 by the university president’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience.

Among the task force’s goals for the university was to achieve carbon neutrality (removing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the amount emitted) by 2040. One step in that direction has been increasing the generation of renewable energy on campus.  

The Task Force’s recommendations for reducing emissions at Rutgers over time – found on page 32 of the Climate Action Plan.

Although Rutgers has a long way to go before reaching carbon neutrality, this latest undertaking marks another step towards that goal. The energy produced is expected to save the university about $1 million annually over the next 15 years.

The university hopes the solar canopies will be an example for other academic institutions of the progress towards climate-positivity that can be accomplished through collaboration.

“By making climate action–both within the University and more broadly–a key strategic priority,” the authors of the Climate Action Plan wrote. “Rutgers has the opportunity to scale up these efforts and become a national leader in joining research and teaching to community climate action.”

Loader Loading…
EAD Logo Taking too long?

Reload Reload document
| Open Open in new tab

Julia is a graduate of Gettysburg College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and minor in Political Science. Her areas of interest include the environment, political theory, ethics, urban development, agriculture, and language.

Julia is a graduate of Gettysburg College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and minor in Political Science. Her areas of interest include the environment, political theory, ethics, urban development, agriculture, and language.