Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 68.50
Liaison Derek Nichols
Submission Date May 17, 2022

STARS v2.2

University at Buffalo
IN-48: Innovation B

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 0.50 / 0.50 Ryan McPherson
Chief Sustainability Officer
Office of Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Scaling Solar on Campus and Across the Region

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:

The University at Buffalo understands the existential threat that climate change poses to our institution, our region, state, country and planet. That is why we have doubled down on our commitment to become climate neutral within the next decade. To achieve this we are standing on the shoulders of five decades of environmental leadership and focusing our climate action work around a holistic solutions orientated approach. UB’s 10 in 10 is the UB’s roadmap of 10 innovative, engaging and digestible steps we are advancing to increase climate action throughout the university and put us on a path to net zero emissions by 2030. The strategy is holistic, inclusive, engages our broader community and leverages both a triple bottom line approach as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.

At the heart of this strategy is transitioning our electrical source to clean renewable energy and then working to electrify key sectors including heating and mobility. This clean energy work began nearly 15 years ago when we constructed the Norton Solar Rooftop, which became the largest solar array on any building in Western New York. Five years later, efforts began to build the UB Solar Strand that would leverage the earlier Norton Solar Rooftop experience and focus not only on demonstrating the viability of solar energy in upstate New York but also work to reframe what solar energy could mean to a campus community (we believe this 750 kWh system represents the most publicly accessible renewable energy landscape in the nation). And finally, in 2017, the University launched the Steel Sun project—a 4.5 megawatt array at the former Bethlehem Steel site.

While we are proud of these accomplishments, we also realized that these initial achievements fall far short of the needed impact our scientists are telling us we must hit to achieve neutrality by 2030. This realization and early confidence fueled the university to re-think our clean energy strategy and how we could truly move to scale onsite capacity. The University thus advanced its Localizing Buffalo’s Renewable Energy Future initiative which called for a broader outlook and strategy to increase impact. Fueled by a State of New York Energy to Lead Award, the initiative focused on not only investing in UB but also our region while reducing energy costs for a who’s who of Buffalo-area anchoring institutions—The City of Buffalo, Erie County, Buffalo State College (the largest teaching school in the SUNY system), and SUNY Erie Community College (the second largest community college in the SUNY system).

Key to the process was leveraging the power purchase agreement mode, or PPA. It is a different, more cost-effective way for large energy users to purchase power. For many bigger institutions, like a city or a university, annual energy costs are unpredictable and uncontrollable because the fossil fuel electricity rates vary depending on the market. Utility costs can fluctuate, but generally increase over a period of years. A PPA, however, is an agreement that smooths out these spikes and can create a much more fixed energy price over an extended period of time, anywhere from 10 to 30 years. That means that the buyer purchasing the power—in this case, the City of Buffalo, Erie County and two other colleges—will be able to know what their energy costs will be, and can budget accordingly while reducing carbon.

From the very beginning the University knew it would be easier, more efficient, and quicker to advance solar energy development as a single entity. But ease, efficiency and speed were not our only goals—the potential of helping other anchoring institutions to decrease their carbon footprint and truly scale solar were big drivers in this work. The concept was to leverage UB’s past experience in this space and assist in providing capacity for each of the other parties to increase their own onsite renewable energy efforts.

Each of the five anchoring institutions created inventories of potential space (rooftops, ground mounts and parking lots canopies), evaluated those possibilities and compared them to likely market PPA prices. While Buffalo State College could not identify suitable sites, both the City of Buffalo and SUNY Erie Community College issued RFP’s for several ground mount locations. Unfortunately, other factors have delayed or derailed further development (site control and community opposition), but internal capacity was built and we are confident they will be able to move forward in the future. In addition, Erie County was also successful at advancing their work and has constructed a new onsite solar array.

On our own campus we worked diligently to evaluate our potential, conducted numerous different land and building studies, and provided a comprehensive multi-year analysis that resulted in key potential renewable energy sites that were then put out for bid. Throughout 2021 five new ground mount sites were constructed with an overall capacity of 11,220,446 kWh. In addition, four new rooftops are also in active construction with an overall energy output of 1,490,000 kWh. This new on campus solar capacity increases UB’s renewable energy output over twenty times our initial campus investment with the Solar Strand and Norton Roof array. The scaling has produced significant impact—the equivalent of reducing 1,000,000 gallons of gasoline from being burned annually or taking nearly 2,000 passenger vehicles off the road each year. And perhaps most notable we also believe that this new onsite capacity makes UB one of the top higher education solar producers with energy generated on its own campus!

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

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