Highlights

  • Worked with universities in the Midwest and beyond to develop solar investment proposals for consideration by university governance boards.
  • Engaged student deployment teams on each campus to build student, faculty, and alumni support for PV deployment and investment.
  • Developed a University Roadmap for Solar Investment for use by universities and colleges across the U.S.
  • Hosted trips and professional development events for staff and faculty at U.S. universities to showcase projects and pathways to greater PV deployment and investment.
  • Developed a web-based tool for tax-exempt (and taxable) entities to simulate long-term financial forecasts of four types of solar PV investment.

Background

Universities in the Midwest are part of an emerging solar PV market. At the project outset in 2014, this region had only 3% of the nation’s installed solar capacity, but was experiencing the fastest growth rate of any region in the U.S. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) worked with universities to spur solar development at universities throughout the country by creating solar PV investment proposals for consideration by governance boards on each campus and sharing lessons learned nationally. The MREA team engaged local stakeholders and regional and national experts to create a solar project development roadmap for engaging university foundations in large-scale solar deployment (1MW+) and solar power procurement investment.

Partnering Universities:
Illinois State University
Missouri University of Science and Technology
University of Minnesota
Purdue University
University of Richmond*
Virginia Commonwealth University*
Minnesota State University – Iron Range Engineering*
Swarthmore College*
University of Vermont*
* denotes preliminary partnerships

Applied Online Course and Campus Roadmaps

MREA engaged student deployment teams at each campus 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 a solar investment proposal for each campus. These proposals also recommended the adoption of campus solar deployment goals, on- and off-campus solar investment policies, and the approval of competitive solicitation for solar installation contractors. The project and student teams sought to engage university foundations in building a campaign to rally alumni and donor support for solar deployment. MREA further supported the student teams in concerted campus-wide efforts to organize support for the student-led proposals to governance boards at partnering university campuses.

Partnering university campus teams utilized MREA’s online PV certificate programs, encompassing courses, and internship offerings—including the MREA PV Site Assessment Certificate and the MREA PV Design and Sales Certificate—to prepare for the roadmapping process and incentivize student participation.

In addition to the PV and site assessment training offered to students, MREA’s Campus PV Development course guided campus through the solar roadmapping process. The course covered each section of the roadmap and defined solar potential, stakeholder support, campus energy use, legal and regulatory barriers and opportunities, potential financing structures, and project financial returns for campus PV investments. Teams applied the templates, resources, guidelines, rubrics, and technical assistance provided through the course to complete customer-ready site assessments for priority sites. Four partnering campuses created working roadmaps and used site assessments to develop a solar investment proposal for their campuses, which included recommendations for:

  1. The adoption of campus solar deployment goals based on the site assessments.
  2. The adoption of policies to guide university investment in solar assets, both on and off campus.
  3. The approval of a competitive solicitation for full development, financing, installation, and operation to advance campus solar deployment goals.

MREA is transforming this course into a more general PV project development course for tax-exempt and taxable entities to learn how to pursue large-scale solar.

Resources

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:
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.

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.

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.

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Webinar:
MREA Site Assessment Certificate ... MREA Site Assessment Certificate and Course in Applied PV Development
Author:  MREA

The PV Site Assessment Certificate for university students and course in Applied Campus PV Development are presented as a potential model for higher education institutions to adopt.

Solar University Network

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Video:
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.

To advance professional development for faculty and students, stimulate knowledge transfer, and build capacity and coordination among project stakeholders, MREA facilitated industry conferences, planning sessions, site visits, tours, and fact-finding missions. These initiatives—available to participating faculty, graduate students, and project stakeholders—helped the teams identify opportunities, share experiences, and implement strategies for their campuses.

Key highlights include:

Investment in Solar

A finance simulator can clarify which type of project to pursue. MREA 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.

MREA, together with its partners, set out to develop solar investment proposals and campaigns for engaging alumni, donors, and university governance boards in renewable energy investment. As a first step, the MREA team created a case study series highlighting solar energy investment projects in higher education to showcase financial models for universities and other higher education institutions looking to invest in on-campus solar energy.

Case study:
Wake Technical Community College: Public College Foundation Investment ... Wake Technical Community College: Public College Foundation Investment in Solar
Author:  MREA & Second Nature

This case study follows the decision-making and PV project development path at Wake Technical College and illustrates the investment potential for institutional foundations.

Case study:
Luther College: Third-Party, Supporter-Financed Campus Solar ... Luther College: Third-Party, Supporter-Financed Campus Solar An Approach and a Partnership that Works
Author:  MREA & Second Nature

This case study highlights how Luther College leveraged donor and supporter-financed funding methods to deploy solar pv on campus.

Case study:
Appalachian State University: Supporting Solar Energy through ... Appalachian State University: Supporting Solar Energy through a Student-Financed Renewable Energy Initiative
Author:  MREA & Second Nature

This case study highlights how Appalachian State University supported solar energy and education on campus through innovative and self-financed renewable energy-focused student funds.

Case study:
Colby College: Developing a Diverse Solar & Carbon Neutrality ... Colby College: Developing a Diverse Solar & Carbon Neutrality Strategy
Author:  MREA & Second Nature

This case study follows the decision-making and project development pathway at a small liberal arts college that reached carbon neutrality two years ahead of its goal.

MREA also partnered with the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) to support higher education institutions and other mission-driven organizations in aligning their endowment investment practices with their missions, values, and sustainability goals. IEN hosts forums and releases documents focused on sustainable investment practices. Recent publications include:

These efforts will culminate in the national dissemination of the University Roadmap for Solar Investment. MREA will summarize the research, experiences, strategies, and lessons learned through the solar deployment efforts at each partnering campus to create resources for universities and colleges across the U.S.

Resources

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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.

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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:
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.

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.

Campus Stakeholder Engagement and Solar Project Development Lessons Learned

MREA has learned that higher education institutions are primed for the next wave of large-scale solar in the U.S. The success of their student-based projects demonstrated that students are a driving force on campus. By using their status to gain access to internal stakeholders, students have the ability to develop projects that fit the institution’s direct needs. They also have the ability to mobilize many different groups on campus, creating the momentum to advance large-scale solar projects. Institutional champions are equally important when determining a project’s success. The role of the internal champion—staff, faculty, alumni, or another internal stakeholder—is to guide student teams, translate their research and momentum into an attractive option for the institution, and work with internal stakeholders to get the project approved.

Internal champions—capable of gaining access to the information that can determine a project’s success—are also important when considering how local politics or internal drivers—like a push to decrease tuition—may affect a project. Similarly, on- and off-campus relationships can alter the likelihood of success.

The presence of supportive policy is another determinant of institutional success. In the absence of enabling policy (e.g., absent net metering regulations or ambiguous legal status of power purchase agreements), large-scale solar PV investments are higher risk and offer less potential payoff, often tipping the scale away from wide-spread campus support. Conversely, clear and supportive policies decrease investment risk by limiting unknown variables and offer financing mechanisms more favorable to institutions.