UC Santa Barbara Multi-array Onsite Solar

As a sustainability leader, UC Santa Barbara was an early adopter of LEED and green building standards, and has one of the smallest carbon footprints out of all the UC campuses. Most recently, the school is demonstrating its commitment to sustainability and carbon reduction by increasing its photovoltaic generating capacity tenfold in a single year, with more solar scheduled to come online in 2018.

This project expands the solar generation capacity more than tenfold, providing one-third of the peak demand, and 15 percent of the annual electrical use, with large energy cost savings from day one and no upfront cost to campus.

The solar expansion was made possible by a power purchasing agreement (PPA) with the Silicon Valley-based solar energy provider SunPower. Through this PPA the campus has contracted to purchase power produced by the system for a period of 20 years at a fixed rate of $0.1175 per kWh. Considering UCSB’s time-of-use electricity rate, the agreement saves significantly on utility costs by reducing costly peak demand and generation charges. It also offers protection from future cost increases that are likely from utility power, as the PPA rate remains constant for the duration of the 20-year contract. Advanced energy cost modeling conducted by UCSB’s Utility and Energy Services Division showed that the campus will incur savings of nearly $270,000 in its first year and $14 million over the duration of the agreement. The agreement relieved the campus of any upfront costs, and also offers the campus an optional five-year extension at a reduced rate of $0.07 per kWh.

Rooftop solar installation at UCSB.

The project was installed in stages at twelve locations, starting in 2017 with a rooftop array over Robertson Gym and carport arrays on three parking structures known as Structure II, Mesa and San Clemente. In 2018 additional rooftop arrays were added on six campus buildings. The largest installation, rated at two megawatts of peak generating capacity, was installed as a carport-style array at a ground level parking area. The campus total solar generating capacity has increased from 500 kilowatts to 5.3 MW, and now supplies more than a third of the peak electrical demand. Additional installations of 1.2 MW planned for 2018 will increase total capacity to 6.5 MW. When complete, PVs are expected to supply 15 percent of UCSB’s total annual electricity consumption.

In addition to energy cost savings, the project is expected to provide a six-percent reduction in UCSB’s greenhouse gas emissions. It will also contribute significantly to the UC system’s growing renewable energy portfolio, thereby supporting UC's goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, a goal the campus has pledged to support.

The first phase of solar installations included three carport arrays.

A 20-year PPA commitment required extensive review and consultation by many campus and UC system stakeholders. Involved groups included the UCSB Campus Planning Committee, the Design Review Committee, the Office of Planning and Budget, Campus Planning and Design, UCOP Real Estate and Planning, the California Coastal Commission, and others. Student members from the UCSB Environmental Affairs Board were involved in project approval meetings and passed a resolution affirming student support for the project.

Campus sustainability leaders have leveraged the project for outreach to the campus community and beyond. Many of the arrays are visible from pedestrian areas, and are featured on regular campus tours including by the Office of Admissions, showcasing renewable technology to new and potential students. UCSB Sustainability produced an educational video on campus solar, to be shown on public displays on campus. The project has been highlighted through social media, and has been widely featured in the local news media.

The solar PV systems installed in the first phase have performed as anticipated during in the first year of operation. In addition, drivers to campus have shared positive comments and feedback regarding the newly shaded parking areas. This project is interconnected to Southern California Edison’s electrical grid under a ‘non-export’ agreement, meaning the systems will not generate more power than the campus is using at any given time. UCSB is now investigating battery storage options to optimize the solar generation and further reduce electrical costs to the campus.

Images courtesty of UCSB.

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Green Features
  • 20-year power purchase agreement with optional five-year extension
  • System provided by private energy supplier SunPower
  • More than tenfold increase in solar capacity
  • All construction and installation costs financed by PPA
  • Twelve solar arrays located on roofs, parking structures, and surface parking lots
Annual Estimated Energy and Cost Savings
Completion Date
Project Team