Sun Shines on UC Merced’s New Solar Field

Solar field installationUC Merced is a step closer to producing solar energy that will provide electricity to the growing campus.

Construction is well under way on an 8.5-acre, 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic array – also known as a solar field. Work on the project started about a month ago and this week, crews began delivering and installing the first of 4,800 solar panels will collect sunlight and convert it into energy.

The field is southeast of the Science and Engineering Building on campus-owned land. When the system is up and running, it will produce about two-thirds of the campus’ electricity on a summer afternoon and 20 percent of its annual electricity needs, according to UC Merced’s John Elliott, assistant director of energy and sustainability. Construction is expected to be completed this fall.

Creation of the solar field is part of UC Merced’s plan to generate renewable power, one of the goals listed in the campus’ Climate Action Plan, a blueprint outlining the university's plan to achieve climate sustainability. The plan outlines goals to save as much energy as possible, generate as much renewable power that is used and offset greenhouse gas emissions, all by 2020.

The solar field was designed and installed by SunPower, which will own, operate and maintain the system. UC Merced has a 20-year agreement with SunPower to purchase the power generated by the solar field.

“The system will produce power more cheaply than we can buy from PG&E,” Elliott said.

UC Merced’s location in the San Joaquin Valley makes it an ideal area to study and implement solar energy projects and research. The solar field project received funding from the California Solar Initiative, which is administered through PG&E.

UC Merced is the most recent UC campus to install a solar field that provides a source of renewable energy. Other UC campuses with solar fields are Irvine, San Diego and San Francisco.