U of R installation technologically and financially innovative

By Sam Polino on March 18, 2016

A soon to be completed solar installation at the University of Richmond is a first-of-its-kind, both for the technology it will employ as well as how it is being funded.

The 205 kW solar project will be built on the U of R Weinstein Health and Wellness Center. The system is estimated to generate enough energy to power the equivalent of one of Richmond’s student dorms. It will be the first installation to use a new kind of bifacial solar module.

Like all solar panels, these panels generate power from direct sunlight on the front of the panel. But, these bifacial panels can also generate power from the rear from sunlight reflected off the roof. It is estimated the panels produce about 25% more power than traditional models. The installation will include a mix of these bifacial panels and traditional models as a way to compare their performance. About 75% of the installed panels will be the bifacial ones.

In addition to the new technology being employed, this installation is novel for how it is being financed. The installation is being paid for through a Power Purchase Agreement. Although this financial structure is common elsewhere, this is the first time one has been done in Virginia.

Secure Futures will build, own, and maintain the system and sell the power it generates back to the University. It is also donating the SRECs the system generates back to the school. Typically with PPAs, the system’s owner will keep the SRECs as a way to pay for the cost of the system.

The PPA is being done under a pilot program with Dominion Power. The pilot program comes as the result of 2013 legislation that allows for this type of financial agreement in Dominion territory.

The University of Richmond will see immediate energy savings once the project is completed. The system also has an educational benefit. The panels are installed in a high-traffic area next to the university’s arena. The campus has a strong sustainability program as well. The system has also gotten interest from U of R’s law school, which already hosts a number of courses on renewable energy law.

Initial work on the project began in 2014. A ribbon cutting is tentatively planned for mid-April.