Princeton Solar Expansion Supports Carbon Neutrality Goal

Dec. 8, 2020

Princeton University is expanding its renewable energy generation on campus by installing eight new solar projects. The expansion supports the University’s ambitious goal to achieve net carbon neutrality 2046.

The solar arrays will be connected to the Princeton microgrid and will more than triple the University’s current solar photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity from about 5.5% to 19% of current electric energy use. The new solar PV arrays will be built above three large parking decks, one surface parking lot, three fields, and the roof of the High-Performance Computing Research Center (HPCRC). The field mounted solar arrays will be installed with bifacial solar modules that can collect energy on both sides of the solar cells, thereby increasing their efficiency and energy yield. 

These new solar arrays are being built under a power purchase agreement with EDF Renewables who will design, build, own, operate, and maintain the arrays for 15 years. After that, the University will have the option to purchase the facilities at fair market value. The expectation is that these  solar facilities will continue to function for another 10 – 15 years.

As Princeton expands the use of geo-exchange technology on campus, the electric heat pumps in the new TIGER (Thermally Integrated Geo-Exchange Resource) facility will be partially or fully powered from renewable resources. Investing in heat pumps and geo-exchange projects, with enough capacity to serve the entire campus, will enable Princeton University to phase out nonrenewable energy sources, including natural gas used today to produce steam heat and power. 

By the Numbers:

  • Princeton University’s solar PV capacity will increase from 4.5 megawatts (MW) to 16.5 MW.
  • Solar energy will increase from 5.5% to ~19% of campus electricity use.
  • The number of solar PV panels will increase from 16,528 to 43,852 total panels
  • Approximately ¼ of the new solar PV capacity uses zero additional land area.
  • The new bifacial solar PV panels can approach 25% efficiency, compared to 20% efficiency of those installed in 2012

Here are other steps the University is taking to achieve carbon neutrality by 2046:

  • Building new construction to higher standards for building envelope. The most advanced example will be the Graduate Student Housing planned for Lake Campus. It will be built to “Passive House” standards, the world’s leading standard in energy efficient construction.
  • Converting existing buildings from steam to hot water.
  • Tightening the energy efficiency of existing buildings.
  • Installing a new, more efficient hot water distribution system.
  • Building highly efficient heat pump facilities.
  • Adding both daily and seasonal thermal storage (tanks and geo-exchange).
  • Powering our energy systems with an increasing proportion of renewable energy over the years.

Learn more about Princeton University’s goal to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to Net Zero

Ted Borer, Energy Plant Director, Princeton Engineering and Campus Energy and Thomas Leyden '77, Senior Director Distributed Solutions of EDF Renewables contributed reporting to this story.