Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 15, 2011


Host: Ted Simons

ASU and Solar Energy


  • After years of installing solar panels on campus parking structures and rooftops, Arizona State University has exceeded 10 megawatts of solar energy capacity. Find out more about ASU’s commitment to solar power from David Brixen, ASU's associate vice president of Facilities Development and Management, and Morgan Olsen, executive vice president, treasurer, and CFO at ASU.
Guests:
  • David Brixen - ASU Associate Vice President of Facilities Development and Management
  • Morgan Olsen - Executive Vice President, Treasurer, CFO at ASU
Category: Energy   |   Keywords: ASU, solar, energy, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Arizona State University started installing solar panels on its Tempe campus back in 2004. Today, you'll see photovoltaic panels on rooftops and parking garages all over ASU's West and Tempe campuses. Combined, they generate more than 10 megawatts of solar power capacity. According to ASU, that's more than any other American university. Here to talk about ASU's commitment to solar energy are -- ASUs Executive Vice President Morgan Olsen, who serves as the university's treasurer and Chief Financial Officer David Brixen, ASU's vice president of facilities development and management.
Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us. Good to have you both here.
Morgan Olsen: Thank you.
David Brixen: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Morgan, let’s start with you. 10-megawatts of solar energy capacity. What does that mean?
Morgan Olsen: Right. Well, that's the equivalent of about the same amount of power it takes to support 2500 Arizona homes, average size for a year. And also the largest accumulation of solar generating capacity on any university in the country and as far as we know, possibly the world.

Ted Simons: ASU is number one in terms of solar capacity and solar production.

Morgan Olsen: At this moment.

Ted Simons: As far as percentage of power being used at peak load time, what are we talking about 10-megawatts?

David Brixen: Well, 10-meggawatts basically provides about 20% of the power during our day time hours --or actually, what we call peak, 20% toward that's peak. The west campus actually during the daytime is generating almost all of the power that the west campus consumes.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So the entire west campus is pretty much ok with solar power in the daytime.
David Brixen: As long as we have sun.
[Laughter]
Ted Simons: Ok. Here we go. Carbon footprint - and the idea to make the smallest footprint you can. What does this do to reduce that foot print?

Morgan Olsen: It's the reduction of somewhere between 5% and 10% of the university's entire carbon foot print and we have a goal as part of our overall university sustainability strategic plan of reaching carbon neutrality. No net carbon production by 2020. With our -- our uses other than transportation. People driving cars and etc. And including all of the transportation uses and this is a major step toward that goal.
Ted Simons: We're seeing the cells there right now. Where are these installations in Tempe and on the west side?

David Brixen: Well, in total, 46 different sites. We have number of our buildings on the Tempe campus on the rooftops and the solar installations, almost all of our parking garages have solar installations on the top deck. The west campus, a large solar installation, what we call ground mount and in our parking lot.
Ted Simons: As far as being -- I don't know, you want to see this stuff and you know it's working but you want it to translate into energy savings. When exactly, when is that going to happen?

David Brixen: Well we estimate based on what's happening with utility rates. Five years to next 10 years, we'll reach the crossover point.
Ted Simons: So that means we have more things being planned, correct?

Morgan Olsen: Absolutely. We just announced we hit the 10 megawatts but there's roughly another five megawatts in planning design or construction and our goal by the year 2014 hit 20 megawatts of generating capacity.

Ted Simons: That quickly huh?

Morgan Olsen: Well, Dave and his crew are doing a fantastic job. So yeah, we think that it's totally doable.

David Brixen: We think we can get there and exceed it.

Ted Simons: You think so? Talk to me -- I hear about a power parasol being built near the stadium parking lot, football or baseball. What are we talking about here?

David Brixen: A large system that is covering the parking lot near the -- we call it lot 59 between basically sun devil stadium and the baseball stadium. Covering both sides of Packard drive. And it's generate -- it will generate when its completed, in its neighborhood, nearly two megawatts.

Ted Simons: Just by itself.

David Brixen: Just by itself.

Ted Simons: Now how tall is it, what does it look like. Assuming it's a power parasol, so its got a umbrella effect there.

David Brixen: Well, no, fixed tilt panels sitting above grade at least 25 feet.
Ted Simons: Interesting.

David Brixen: That's the difference, most of our parking lots are in the neighborhood of 10, 11 feet.

Ted Simons: I understand the power parasol is approved with a private company that owns and manages and ASU reaps the benefits of the savings. How does that work?

Morgan Olsen: Yeah. That’s correct. Almost all of our solar generating capacity is actually owned by someone else. From a CEO standpoint, that's fantastic, what it means somebody else is making the capital investment and we have an agreement we purchase the power production over a period of years and Dave said, we anticipate because of that payment per kilowatt hour is locked in we'll be saving significant dollars and we haven't had a capital outlay to make that happen.

Ted Simons: And you don't see any foreseeable future?

Morgan Olsen: I am sorry?

Ted Simons: You see the same plan in the foreseeable future?

Morgan Olsen: Absolutely. And the thing that's new here with the power parasol, is that I sometimes tease Dave, if he tried to put solar packages on top of us and we have only so much ground we want to commit to solar panels that we're looking for new ways to do that and so the power parasol concept is one we think is complementary to the campus and creates a functional space that can be used in the climate great for parking and tailgating around football and baseball games and another way aesthetically attractive to build additional solar generating capacity into the campus.

Ted Simons: Can you build so many power parasols that the vast majority of the campus is literally covered by these things?

David Brixen: Well, I think the short answer is yes, because we're actually considering that and taking preliminary looking at that. Mainly over the malls.

Ted Simons: So -- the buildings themselves, but the walkways and things?

David Brixen: The malls and pathways provide shade to our students as they go to class.

Ted Simons: What's the biggest challenge so far in getting the project operational?

David Brixen: There's a number of them but probably the biggest has been -- these systems, we do rely on utility incentives. And so we participate in the APS renewable energy incentive program and those monies are now much more competitive. The rebates or incentives attached to the systems have been declining in recent years. The good news is that the cost of solar systems have also been declining.

Ted Simons: That means real energy savings in the not too distant future.

Morgan Olsen: Absolutely. They are up in the foreseeable future.
Ted Simons: Alright, very good gentlemen.
David Brixen: I would like to add something.
Ted Simons: Yeah. Yes, please do. Please do.
David Brixen: We have a system on this building, 77 kilowatt system that started up last week.

Ted Simons: That's why the slight shining so brightly.
David Brixen: That’s right.
[Laughter]
David Brixen: Thank you, Ted, appreciate it.


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