Cal State Fullerton currently produces 13 percent of its energy through several solar projects built around campus, which is a 9 percent increase over the last two years, said Janet Purchase, the utility and energy analyst, and Michael Lotito, associate director of physical plant at CSUF.
The campus is steadily working toward the state goal of having 100 percent carbon free and renewable energy by 2045, Lotito and Purchase said.
Solar panels at CSUF have a total capacity of up to four megawatts of electricity. When the university builds a new parking structure, those solar panels are expected to generate an additional megawatt of storage and 500 kilowatts to one megawatt of energy, Purchase said.
“We haven’t picked out specific locations yet, but you might see something, like there’s a new parking structure that’s going to be built on Eastside,” Lotito said.
CSUF contracted its solar projects through SunPower in the summer of 2016, a solar company that also works with Cal State Long Beach.
Trigen, which generates electricity from natural gas, currently accounts for over 70 percent of CSUF’s power, a number that has remained fairly consistent from 2016 to 2018. On the contrary, Edison’s electricity has been reduced considerably from 25 percent to 17 percent, Purchase said.
“We’re at about maybe 5 cents a kilowatt-hour for Trigen, about 9 cents for the renewable solar, and then we’re around 12 to 13 cents for Edison per kWh,” Purchase said, illustrating the price difference between the three sources. “We’re trying to figure out, how do we optimize the electricity coming in because we want to use the cheapest first.”
Another feature the university is trying to enforce with their central plant is the ability to switch power off from one source in a power outage. This would allow the campus to run while one of its three sources is down, ensuring a seamless handoff.
“We have to put in some utility synchronization that would automatically synchronize to Edison and automatically close that breaker during the outage,” Purchase said. “The system would have to do this in seconds. We’ve been dealing with a lot of consultants to help us figure out what the best plan is.”
Lotito said how necessary this technology can be with CSUF’s energy usage patterns changing to be in high demand during the evening hours.
“In the summer it was really hot, the air conditioning was going on and they would have to have more generation on hand to meet that demand,” Lotito said. “Now it’s kind of flipped. Instead of being from noon to 6 p.m. it’s going to be 4 to 9 p.m.”
CSULB led all CSUs with 4.75 megawatts of solar in 2017, according to the CSULB website.
“I think as far as photovoltaic, we’re probably in the top two or three,” Lotito said.
Photovoltaic is the process of converting sunlight to energy.
With the campus looking to increase its solar capacity, it’s possible with the new structure and future projects that CSUF can lead all CSUs in solar production very soon.