Construction is set to begin this summer on a five-acre field of solar panels on MUM land west of the recreational trail that borders the west side of campus. The 1.1-megawatt solar array will provide approximately one-third of the electricity used on campus and will be connected by an underground cable to the university’s substation.
The state-of-the-art solar panels will move to follow the path of the sun during the day. Excess energy will be stored in a battery bank for use during the night and during times of peak energy needs. The array will be one of Iowa’s largest, and the battery energy storage system will be the largest of its kind in the Midwest.
“This project is the culmination of years of design, engineering, and planning work by the local Fairfield solar company Ideal Energy together with university trustee Tom Factor,” said Tom Brooks, MUM vice president of operations.
Mr. Factor is a retired wind energy developer and researcher who has led the development of over 40 utility-scale wind farms. Ideal Energy, a leading solar company headed by MUM alumni Troy Van Beek and Amy Greenfield Van Beek, focuses on smart, scalable solar deployment.
The project, which will cost over $2 million and will be owned by an independent company, is being funded by private investment and by a loan from MUM that was made possible by donations, including grants from the Wege Foundation and the Schwartz Family Foundation. In addition, the Rona and Jeffrey Abramson Foundation and the MUM graduating classes of 2016 and 2017 made donations to support the pre-development costs for the project.
The array, which will take about two months to complete, is projected to lower MUM’s cost of electricity by about a third over its 25-year life, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In addition to the new array, MUM has a smaller array on the terrace west of the men’s dome, and a solar installation on the roof of the Schwartz-Guich Sustainable Living Center. Plus, a wind turbine south of the Sustainable Living Center also provides power to the campus.
Add these local sustainable sources to the fact that Alliant Energy, which provides electricity to campus, gets about 15 percent of its electricity from wind farms. The result is that over 43 percent of the university’s electricity will be from sustainable sources once the new array is complete this summer.
MUM continues to progress toward the goal of being a carbon-neutral campus and meeting the commitments the university has made to The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and to the Paris Climate Initiative.
“This new solar field is a big step forward in that continuing effort to promote life in accord with natural law,” Mr. Brooks said.