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CSUN not leading CSU energy efficiency, still committing to green


More than 2,800 165-watt solar panels cover this faculty lot on the southwest side of campus to help contribute to more than $140,000 annually in energy costs and give shade to parked cars. Photo Credit: Andres Aguila / Daily Sundial

Despite recently losing its No.1 spot for energy efficiency to CSU San Bernardino, CSUN still has big plans for its efforts to stay green, according to school officials.

“Sustainability is a large commitment to the CSU system,” Elizabeth Chapin, spokesperson for the University Chancellor’s Office, said Tuesday. “From improving campus power to researching methods for better sustainability, offering green jobs and even to the way we design our campus buildings — we promote sustainable practices.”

She said the efforts not only help the environment, and the school’s compliance with a CSU-wide sustainability plan, they also save a lot of money in campus-operating costs.

Solar panels above the E6 and B2 parking structures save the university an estimated $140,000 annually, according to the CSUN Institute for Sustainability’s self guided-tour.

“CSUN is sticking to its commitment to sustainability plan, as outlined in its 2008 Access to Excellence plan,” Chapin said.

These solar photovoltaic systems work by converting sunlight into electricity, and are more efficient during the hottest part of the day, which is when more campus air conditioners are on, according to the 2005 CSU Sustainability Report.

The systems also help avoid electricity shortages, keep peak energy costs down and reduce the overall emission of greenhouse gases, thought to be the cause of climate change and a warming planet.

“PV systems are a great source of renewable energy,” said Craig Shields, editor of 2greenenergy, a website that advocates renewable energy for large businesses.

“PV systems are done mostly for the environment, as the initial cost of building the solar panels and grid are very expensive,” Shields said. “But in the long run, they are easy to maintain and you will get your money back over the coming years.”

The PV project above parking lot E6, as stated on the Physical Plant Management website, cost $1.8 million.

CSUN received more than $2.1 million to dedicate the university’s second solar-electric system from The Gas Company and the Department of Water and Power.

Thirteen universities in the CSU system are equipped with solar panels that produce 10.5 megawatts total, the equivalent of powering 11,000 homes, according to the 2011 CSU Sustainability Report.

CSU’s (systemgoal) is to produce 50 megawatts of its energy on (its) campus(es) by 2014. Future installation plans would increase photovoltaic energy production to 22.1 megawatts (at CSUN), according to the 2011 report.

Although it’s no longer the largest in the CSU system, CSUN’s role in green energy is still working for the campus.

“CSUN has the largest university-owned fuel-cell generator,” Chapin said.

CSUN is the only CSU campus to have a grid connected to a fuel-cell plant. Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity through chemical reaction. These generators alone produce 1.2 megawatts, the 2011 report noted.

Waste from the fuel-cell generator on campus is used to sustain a subtropical rain forest on campus, according to CSUN’s Institute of Sustainability self-guided tour. This is the only outdoor rain forest housed in an education facility sustained entirely by industrial waste.

The institute also works with the bike collective group  to provide free bikes to students and staff  in the fall semester, according to its website. There are 265 waterless urinals on campus, saving the university $77,000 a year and save 40,000 gallons of water per unit a year.

CSUN’s days of boasting the largest solar-energy grid among the CSU campuses may be in the past, but being outdone in this case means the CSU system is improving its sustainability and reducing its costs, Chapin said.



  1. Do the math:  According to this CSUN news release the parking-lot solar panels cost $3.5 million.  This was paid for, at least in part, by the Southern California Gas Company and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  The companies don’t actually pay this; their customers and taxpayers do.

    Of course, this “saves” CSUN about $140,000 per year.  At this rate the project will pay for itself in 25 years assuming there are no additional repair or mainenance costs.

    By the way, I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for paying for about 2/3rds of the price of the solar panels I had installed on my house last year.  The DWP subsidy and federal tax credit brought the price down to where my costs will be covered in about 7 years.  After that, my electricity is “free” for me, but you will still be paying for it.

    The goverment had no business in buying my solar panels; the program shouldn’t exist.  But it was either you folks pay for mine or I pay for yours.  I chose the latter.

    1. Old Glory Sep 7, 2011

      Then you should have not taken the rebates offered.

      1. I have to work with the system that’s in place, not the system I’d like it to be.  When the government stops taking and wasting such a huge portion of my income and eliminates such programs I’ll buy my own solar panels, assuming that such an investment makes economic sense.

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