A new community solar program from Duke Energy will allow USF’s St. Petersburg campus to expand its investment in renewable energy while saving money and enhancing environmental sustainability.
Clean Energy Connection is a solar program in Florida that allows businesses and residents to receive the environmental and long-term cost benefits of solar energy without having to install and maintain costly equipment. By becoming a subscriber in the program, the campus will be able to expand its renewable energy portfolio – by up to 6,753 kilowatts - and support Duke Energy’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at a fraction of the cost of adding more solar panels and arrays.
“It is an appealing program for us because our campus is in a location where land is very expensive and we don’t have much space to expand and offset a significant amount of our energy demand with onsite renewable energy infrastructure,” said Winnie Mulamba, sustainability planner for USF St. Petersburg campus. “These limitations make the Clean Energy Connection program a great solution for those barriers.”
The program works by allowing businesses and residents to subscribe by paying a monthly subscription rate. The subscription is used to support solar energy generation by developing and maintaining Duke Energy’s clean energy connection solar portfolio, including ten 74.9-megawatt solar plants across Florida.
The solar plants produce clean, renewable energy that will be added to the electric grid. While supporting clean energy, those enrolled will earn renewable energy and bill credits based on subscription size, which will reduce cost over time and act as a renewable energy credit to offset electric needs.
“Supporting clean, renewable energy is important to our customers and communities, however, we recognize not everyone has the space or funds to add solar panels to their home or business,” said Melissa Seixas, Duke Energy Florida state president, who also serves as chair of the USF St. Petersburg Campus Advisory Board and is a member of the USF Board of Trustees. “The Clean Energy Connection program helps customers and businesses like USF achieve their sustainability goals, earn savings on utility costs and be a part of a community that supports the transition to a cleaner energy future.”
The USF St. Petersburg campus will receive credit for more than 6,750 kilowatts of renewable power through the community solar program, which amounts to nearly 70 percent of total energy demand, based on 2019 data. The campus will achieve this figure by 2024, when all ten megawatt solar plants come online.
Though there is a subscription cost for this large quantity of renewable energy, the bill credits will start to accumulate quickly and reduce overall cost. By year six, the credits will be larger than the subscription cost each month, creating savings for the campus. By year seven, the campus will have reached its payback period, meaning total bill credits earned will equal the total cost of investment in the program.
“This program is a great opportunity as it supports both environmental and financial sustainability for the university. By participating with other members of the community, we can make an impact on our environment that also delivers significant net cost savings as a financial return on investment,” said David Everingham, regional vice chancellor for administration & finance at the USF St. Petersburg campus.
In addition to being a subscriber in the Clean Energy Connection program, the campus has two solar arrays that produce 140 kilowatts (kW) of renewable energy.
A 100-kW solar array on top of the parking garage powers an elevator, lights and electric vehicle charging stations found within. Solar energy that is not used by the garage is stored in a 250-kW Tesla battery system, to be used at night or during a power outage as a backup power source.
A 40-kw solar carport outside of the Warehouse Laboratory powers around 15 percent of the building, which houses biology, chemistry and physics labs. The solar carport played a part in the Warehouse Laboratory earning LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The laboratory was the first in the USF System to receive this highest recognition for green buildings.
“Our solar arrays have made a large sustainability impact, but we wouldn’t have been able to afford or build any sort of system that would have gotten us close to the amount of renewable energy this program will provide,” Mulamba said. “And by investing in this community solar program, we are helping the development of renewable energy on our campus and in our community.”