Solar initiatives on campus to help students go green

I am a big fan of solar energy. I love seeing all the solar panels that look like they’re growing along the highway; there’s a fantastic field of solar panels near Hartford, CT’s Bradley International Airport, which is the closest large airport to where I live. I’m really encouraged by those initiatives to go green, and I see a lot of them happening on campus.

If your campus doesn't have a solar farm, how else can you go green on campus? (Credit: Jim Meadows, Illinois Public Media)

If your campus doesn’t have a solar farm, how else can you go green on campus? (Credit: Jim Meadows, Illinois Public Media)

Last November, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign cut the ribbon on its new solar farm, and even before the ceremony was complete, it was providing energy to campus. Are you on one of the lucky campuses with great solar campus energy initiatives? What else can you do to go green on campus?

College solar farms

The University of Illinois’s solar farm was designed by Phoenix Solar, and it has around 19,000 pole-mounted crystalline solar panels. The university expects the farm to generate 5.87 megawatts of electricity annually, or about 2% of the electricity used on campus. Despite the sun’s energy being free, the cost of constructing the solar farm tallies up to $5.3 million, which the university will repay over a 20 year period. But after that 20 year period, the university will own the solar farm outright, and any energy produced will be free.

U of I isn’t the only campus to have a solar farm helping power its buildings. Smaller schools, like Antioch College in Ohio, can get even greater energy savings from solar: their solar farm provides 30% of the campus energy tally, and saves the school $400K per year. Campuses of all sizes and other colleges with solar farms include:

  • Stonehill College in Easton, MA
  • Cornell University
  • Mount St. Mary University, Maryland
  • Middlebury College, Vermont
  • University of Tennessee
  • Robeson Community College, Lumberton, NC

Go green on campus

Not all campuses can have a big solar farm to power the school. And while there are students in engineering courses who might right now be designing the next clean energy initiative, there are also plenty of us lit majors who just want to live more sustainably. If you’re trying to go green on campus, here are some tips from‘s “Everyday Environmentalist: Go Green on Campus” article by Isabella Roden:

  • Take shorter showers; it not only saves water, but energy for the heat. Even 2 minutes can make a difference.
  • Only take as much food in the dining hall as you’re going to eat. It helps reduce food waste.
  • Install energy efficient lightbulbs in those lamps you have in your dorm room.
  • Recycle/reuse paper. Use old drafts of papers on the backs of first drafts of newer papers—just not on the final!

There are other things that college students just do naturally that help contribute to going green. In my dorm, there’s a free box in the basement where students leave clothes they no longer want. It’s classic reuse! Many campuses are very walking- or bicycle-friendly or have access to public (or campus) transit. The less college students use their cars, the more the college’s carbon footprint is reduced. And if you’re lucky enough to live on a heavily wooded campus, like I am, that carbon footprint might be further reduced just by being surrounded by a lot of green space. You can help preserve those green spaces by volunteering to blaze trails, picking up litter in campus areas, or having potted plants in your dorm room.

For more tips, you can also visit “How to Go Green on Campus” by Chris Dinesen Rogers for SFGate.

What do you do to go green on campus? Tell us in the comments.

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