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Increasing Higher Education Investment Potential

Colleges and universities hold great solar potential. This toolkit explores some of the deployment frameworks and models developed by Solar Market Pathways awardees and others.

Photo credit Raja Sambasivan on flickr Creative Commons

Background

In the U.S., colleges and universities—which account for billions of dollars of investment nationally—are well positioned to invest substantially in solar projects due to their unique combination of power consumption, land ownership, finance capacity, and commitment to education. For these institutions, solar offers a pathway to advance campus sustainability goals, achieve energy independence and price stability, and realize a return on investment. Solar installation also offers important educational and research opportunities for students and faculty.

College and university solar projects can also benefit surrounding communities, creating economic benefits and clean, renewable energy. In areas with less exposure to solar, college and university campuses can serve as important demonstration sites and provide opportunities for public education.

Through Solar Market Pathways, projects worked to:

  • Spur investment in solar development—both on and off campus—through institutions of higher education.
  • Coordinate collaborative procurement programs that pool the purchasing power of large institutions.
  • Engage students in project design and develop ongoing renewable energy curricula and research opportunities to attract and engage students, faculty, and staff.
  • Engage with the communities living around the campuses.
  • Encourage the adoption of university board policies and local community policies that enable solar deployment.

Toolkit

These resources are intended to assist college and university program managers, sustainability directors, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders to take advantage of the benefits of solar energy and expand on- and off-campus solar deployment.

Creating a Campus Solar Plan

Planning for solar deployment can be complicated. Solar Market Pathways projects have developed templates—including site assessments, roadmaps, tutorials, and case studies—to help higher educational institutions get started with solar.

One of the common first steps to create a campus solar plan is completing solar feasibility reports, which serve as key tools in the internal decision-making process. These reports include site assessments, historical energy consumption, available incentives, interconnection points, and more. The Washington & Lee University Solar Master Plan serves as an example.

A roadmap builds upon feasibility assessments by outlining recommendations for solar investment and procurement. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association developed case study roadmaps for deploying solar on campus for the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and the University of Minnesota. Campus teams comprised of students, faculty, and key stakeholders identified priority sites; assessed costs, risks, and legal and regulatory considerations; investigated project financial goals and university investment opportunities; and provided recommendations for solar investment.

To help universities think about implementing solar projects, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory created a suite of reports, fact sheets, presentations, and brochures to provide guidance on procuring battery storage, assessing financing options, pursing bulk purchasing and power purchasing agreements, releasing requests for proposals, and more.

Resources

Tool:
Campus PV Development Roadmap Template Campus PV Development Roadmap Template
Author:  MREA

The Campus PV Development Roadmap serves as the guiding framework for solar PV development for the university campus and associated properties.

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Webinar:
State of Renewables: Midwest Focus ... State of Renewables: Midwest Focus Data Briefing by Second Nature
Author:  ISC

An update on the survey of 680 participants in the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, including common financing mechanisms and renewable energy goals.

Case study:
Colorado State University: A Midscale Market Solar Customer Case ... Colorado State University: A Midscale Market Solar Customer Case Study
Author:  NREL

This case study highlights CSU’s decision-making process, campus engagement strategies, and relationships which have culminated in significant on-campus PV deployment.

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Presentation:
Agnes Scott College Solar Deployment ... Agnes Scott College Solar Deployment Case Study
Author:  ISC

This presentation highlights Agnes Scott College’s vreative finaninc, key partnerships, and innovative design involved in deploying solar on campus.

Case study:
Harnessing the Sun: A Case Study of Solar Energy Deployment at ... Harnessing the Sun: A Case Study of Solar Energy Deployment at Agnes Scott College
Author:  Agnes Scott College

This case study reveals how Agnes Scott College successfully deployed solar arrays on its campus including technical aspects of each project.

Tool:
Campus PV Development Roadmap- University of Minnesota Campus PV Development Roadmap- University of Minnesota
Author:  MREA

This roadmap features development plans for on campus PV including stakeholder mapping, site assessment, financial modeling, legal/regulatory review and recommendations for investment.

Tool:
Campus PV Development Roadmap- University of Wisconsin Stevens ... Campus PV Development Roadmap- University of Wisconsin Stevens Point
Author:  MREA

This roadmap features development plans for on campus PV including stakeholder mapping, site assessment, financial modeling, legal/regulatory review and recommendations for investment.

Tool:
Solar Master Plan Sample Solar Master Plan Sample
Author:  Optony, CICV

This sample plan is a template other colleges and universities can utilize in their planning process for assessing solar potential and a collaborative procurement approach.

Procurement and Financing

There are many ways to finance solar development within a campus and community, including collaborative procurement, power purchasing agreements, and more.

Using a finance simulator can clarify which type of project to pursue. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Sustainable Capital Advisors developed the Solar Finance Simulator, an easy-to-use online tool for universities, hospitals, K-12 schools, municipalities, and businesses to simulate long-term financial forecasting for PV investments. Using their own values, users can simulate and compare financial projections for four different investment models. The tool can be used to guide or validate potential projects, compare proposals, or simply help users become more familiar with financing structures and common transaction costs.

Institutions can also work together to achieve cost savings. In order to drive down the cost of solar deployment, the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) leveraged group purchasing power to achieve at least a 10% discount for solar installations for participating colleges. CICV developed a template request for proposals (RFP) for collaborative procurement and a lessons-learned document. This RFP, issued by CICV on behalf of several member colleges, has bundled sites for on-campus solar to provide a more accessible and relevant process to bidders who may provide proposals and qualifications for any number of site bundles.

Resources

Report:
Lessons Learned from CICV’s First Collaborative Procur... Lessons Learned from CICV’s First Collaborative Procurement
Author:  CICV

This memo highlights lessons learned from our first round of procurement and includes advice for team structure, design of the RFP documents, and how to properly evaluate the responses.

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Webinar:
Solar Energy on Campus: Opportunities ... Solar Energy on Campus: Opportunities and common pitfalls in communicating renewable energy use in higher education
Author:  NREL & Center for Resource Solutions

This webinar discusses the role of RECs in renewable energy claims, the advantages and risks of solar purchasing options, REC arbitrage done right, and more.

Tool:
Guide to Purchasing Green Power Guide to Purchasing Green Power
Author:  EPA

This guide provides information about the green power procurement process, benefits of green power purchasing, as well as how to capture the greatest benefit from your purchase.

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Video:
RECs: Making Green Power Possi... RECs: Making Green Power Possible
Author:  EPA

This short video address common questions and concerns about the role and benefits of Renewable Energy Credits.

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Webinar:
Understanding Renewable Energy ... Understanding Renewable Energy Certificates
Author:  ISC

Learn about strategies used by colleges and universities to ensure that the role, value, and trade-offs involved with monetizing renewable energy certificates are well understood.

Tool:
Using Power Purchase Agreements for Solar Deployment at Univ... Using Power Purchase Agreements for Solar Deployment at Universities
Author:  NREL

This brochure provides guidance to universities on the process of using PPAs and how PPAs can make economic sense for campus solar deployment.

Tool:
Non-Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Options for Financing Solar ... Non-Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Options for Financing Solar Deployment at Universities
Author:  NREL

NREL developed this overview summarizing existing financing models and funding mechanisms available for solar procurement, focusing on non-PPA financing models.

Tool:
Writing Solar Requests for Proposals (RFPs) Writing Solar Requests for Proposals (RFPs)
Author:  NREL

This guide provides a list of common issues to consider when writing an RFP for solar PV.

Tool:
NREL RFP and PPA Resources NREL RFP and PPA Resources
Author:  NREL

Example RFPs and PPAs compiled by NREL.

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Webinar:
Financing Solar at Virginia Co... Financing Solar at Virginia Colleges
Author:  ISC

This webinar presents innovative ways to finance solar at college campuses through Power Purchase Agreements, Customer Self Generation Agreements, Solar Certificates of Deposit and more.

Article:
A Net Metered Solar Project Benefits ALL Ratepayers A Net Metered Solar Project Benefits ALL Ratepayers
Author:  Solar Today

This article details how a solar PV installation at a Christian university benefits the local utility as well as the larger community.

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Webinar:
Capital Partners Solar Project: ... Capital Partners Solar Project: Harnessing Collective Buying Power to Procure Solar
Author:  ISC

Learn about a new business model in which non-profit institutions collectively solicited competitive bids to secure a large portion of their electricity supply from solar PV.

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Webinar:
Working with a Solar Developer ... Working with a Solar Developer to Make PV Investments on Your Campus
Author:  MREA

This webinar covers the PV Development Process, Key Considerations for US universities, and strategies for conducting a successful competitive solicitation.

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Webinar:
CICV Collaborative Procurement ... CICV Collaborative Procurement RFP
Author:  ISC

This webinar discusses CICV’s collaborative procurement RFP process, lessons learned, and next steps.

Engaging Students and Creating a Curriculum

Installing solar offers educational and research opportunities for students and faculty. As institutions prepare their students for the job market, firsthand experience with renewable energy systems is a valuable addition to the curriculum.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) engaged student deployment teams at partnering campuses to build student, faculty, and alumni support for solar PV deployment and investment. These teams used the MREA Site Assessment Certification Program to complete site assessments, select potential project sites, and develop roadmaps that included stakeholder mapping, priority development sites, PV site assessment, financial modeling, and legal and regulatory review. Using this information, the student teams developed a solar investment proposal for each campus recommending the adoption of campus solar deployment goals and solar investment policies and the approval of competitive solicitation for solar contractors.

Building and offering solar courses generates interest in solar across an entire campus community, and creates opportunities for students to gain valuable technical experience. The University of Minnesota Duluth developed a replicable program for solar installation that provides undergraduate students hands-on solar experience and engages with the community. The project is now a regular course offered at the university.

Resources

Tool:
Campus PV Development Roadmap- Illinois State University Campus PV Development Roadmap- Illinois State University
Author:  MREA

This roadmap features development plans for on campus PV including stakeholder mapping, site assessment, financial modeling, legal/regulatory review and recommendations for investment.

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Webinar:
Lincoln Park Shines: Promising ... Lincoln Park Shines: Promising Practices for Engaging Students and the Community in Solar and Renewable Energy
Author:  ISC

Lincoln Park Shines gave students hands on experience in the field, and enabled the businesses involved to engage on the topic of energy at a high level.

Case study:
CICV Learning Module- Analyzing Utility Regulatory Filings CICV Learning Module- Analyzing Utility Regulatory Filings
Author:  CICV

This learning module guides students in analyzing the potential impact of utility regulatory filings on solar PV systems.

Getting to Yes with University Governance Boards, Alumni, and Donors

A significant investment in solar energy requires the approval of many campus decision-makers and stakeholders. Engaging alumni, donors, and university governance boards in decisions about renewable energy investments offers important opportunities for on- and off-campus deployment.

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Second Nature created a case study series highlighting solar energy investment projects in higher education to showcase working financial models for higher education institutions to invest in on-campus solar. Luther College leveraged donor- and supporter-financed funding to deploy solar PV on campus, while Wake Technical Community College capitalized on the investment potential for institutional foundations looking to further educational (e.g. student scholarships) and financial (e.g. solar energy opportunities) goals. Appalachian State University overcame financial barriers using innovative and self-financed renewable energy-focused student funds.

The Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) supports higher education institutions and other mission-driven organizations in aligning their endowment investment practices with their mission, values, and sustainability goals. IEN encourages conversations about the financial and societal benefits of clean energy investments for higher education institutions, both as a customer and institutional investor.

Resources

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Webinar:
Innovation in Solar Energy Finance ... Innovation in Solar Energy Finance and Development
Author:  MREA

This webinar focuses on four case studies highlighting higher education investment in solar energy projects.

Report:
Investing in Clean Energy: Campuses and Endowments Investing in Clean Energy: Campuses and Endowments
Author:  Intentional Endowments Network

This report encourages conversation around the financial and societal benefits clean energy investments in higher education can make through their endowments.

Report:
Intentionally Designed Endowments Intentionally Designed Endowments
Author:  Intentional Endowments Network

This primer provides a high level overview of the field of sustainable investing, including a brief history and links to key resources and relevant organizations.

Report:
The Business Case for Environmental, Social and Governance F... The Business Case for Environmental, Social and Governance Factors
Author:  Intentional Endowments Network

This briefing paper describes what Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing is and how ESG investing and analysis can be approached.

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Case study:
Solar University Network: Appalachian State University, Colby ... Solar University Network: Appalachian State University, Colby College, Luther College, and Wake Technical Community College
Author:  MREA, Second Nature

These case studies follow the project development pathways for solar—including efforts to overcome financial barriers—at Appalachian State University, Colby College, Luther College, and Wake Technical College.

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Webinar:
Investing in Clean Energy for Campuses ... Investing in Clean Energy for Campuses and Endowments
Author:  Intentional Endowments Network & MREA

This webinar provides an overview of the report: Investing in Clean Energy: Campuses and Endowments.