All kinds of businesses are investing in renewable energy, from billion dollar corporations to small, family owned operations. Universities, however, have a unique opportunity for advancements in the green energy field, and many are using their opportunity to become leaders in the renewable industry. Socially, colleges and universities have always been beacons of change thanks to the combination of political activism and academic research that occur on campus, but lately advancements in renewable energy have taken the place of common social issues in focus.
Some recent examples would include: the University of California's procurement contract for enough off-site solar electricity to power nearly 13,000 homes, the University of Oklahoma's agreement to purchase 100% of their electricity as renewable, (which in turn led to the development of a 44 turbine wind farm,) and Ohio State University's commitment to purchase 50 MW of wind power over the next 20 years. Additionally, the universities of Rutgers, Arizona State and Mount St. Mary's have installed solar PV arrays on campus, producing enough power between the three schools to power more than 9,000 U.S. homes.
In an article by Stephen Abbott written for the Rocky Mountain Institute on the leadership role universities have taken across the nation in the field of renewable energy, he explains three reasons for that influence.
1. Renewables make financial sense: in addition to saving annually on utilities, renewable energy contracts often provide fixed energy pricing, which is less than the overall prices for standard options. Also, the average cost for both solar and wind projects have gone down over the past few years. More and more, public universities are able to afford renewable energy projects, making the financial benefits clear.
2. The American Colleges and Universities Presidents' Climate Commitment have gotten commitments from nearly 700 schools to achieve carbon neutrality by a certain, agreed upon time frame. With the endorsement from a foundation in a leadership role such as this one, individual schools have the support needed to make a difference on the smaller level, which adds up to big change.
3. The demand from the bottom-up has driven efforts toward sustainability. The campaigning done by faculty and students creates a ripple affect which makes an environmental impact at the larger level. When surveyed, applicants to universities said 61% of the time that a college's commitment to the environment would impact his or her decision to attend that school. With activism at the most basic levels, universities have been given the push needed to become a leader in using renewable energy.
Source: Stephen Abbott, GreenBiz.com