Construction for the largest solar site in the world is about to begin under Texas' sun-filled skies. As a result, the 50,000 students who attend Texas A&M will have an education powered, in part, by the sun. The university has partnered with California-based PPA Partners to develop the Center for Solar Energy, a project with enough solar energy generation to completely power the school.
The project will cost about $600 million and will span over a massive 800 acres of Texas land. But this expansive solar system will save the school about $250,000 a year in energy costs and pave the way for more than $500 million in solar energy research.
In addition to supplying A&M with 100 percent renewable energy, the solar system should generate enough extra energy to power about 20,000 Texas homes. Though it hasn't been decided where the excess power will go, Fort Hood is being explored as a potential recipient. Using the solar energy at Fort Hood, the largest active-duty armored post in the U.S. Armed Services, could help the military reach the 30 to 40 percent renewable energy levels requested by President Obama.
The center will create curriculums for student degrees in solar technology as well as work with the school's business, science and engineering departments to provide certifications with a renewable energy focus. Officials say the center should drive innovation and education in solar technologies, which they hope will result in venture capital for more projects.
Construction on the project is set to begin in December 2013, but officials have not released an expected completion date. It will have to be installed in several phases, so it may take some time for A&M to see the full potential of the system.
Sustainability at A&M
This investment in solar energy is simply the latest in a slew of sustainability efforts made by A&M. For more than a decade, the school has hosted an annual Campus Sustainability Day (CSD) which celebrates sustainability in higher education environments. CSD features approximately 20 organizations, including student groups, community partners and environmental leaders that have implemented green initiatives.
For students interested in studying sustainability, Texas A&M already offers nine degree programs that focus on the environment. The future solar-focused degree programs will only add to the university's interest in educating students on the benefits of a sustainable planet and attract a growing number of students with a passion for the environment. The Princeton Review included A&M in its 2012 Guide to Green Colleges, stating the university was a leader in research and education surrounding how humans interact with the environment.
The campus itself is a very sustainable initiative. It includes 11 LEED-certified buildings and enough recycling stations to collect about 60 tons of materials each month. The dining halls use organic, locally grown produce, cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free chicken. And students lead a program to plant trees in the areas surrounding the university. In its most recent event, the group planted more than 10,000 loblolly pine seedlings to replenish the areas burned by Bastrop's massive wildfires in 2011.