The University of Arizona has a long-standing interest in renewable energy technologies, especially those featuring solar power, as sunshine is an abundant resource for 85% of the year in the Southwest. The first of its kind and one of the largest solar-centric research parks in the nation, the Tech Parks Arizona Solar Zone is an “innovation hub” designed to generate 25 megawatts of electricity. The Solar Zone is a partnership between the University of Arizona and Tucson Electric Power (TEP), with a focus on piloting and evaluating multiple solar technologies side-by-side, under identical operating conditions. Numerous other areas of the University, including the Institute for Energy Solutions, also conduct research critical to the integration of renewable technologies into our electric grid.
From 2009 to 2011, the University of Arizona installed numerous solar and solar-thermal systems across campus, including atop McClelland Hall (Eller College of Management), the Student Recreation Center, and Second Street Parking Garage. Together, these systems generate approximately 3,235 megawatt-hours of energy (electricity and thermal heating) annually, enough to power close to 400 average American homes. The University however does not retain any of the renewable energy credits/certificates (RECs) associated with this energy, and therefore cannot claim any of the associated environmental benefits of this energy, including the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. More information on RECs can be found through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Renewable Energy for Main Campus
In early 2018, several departments within the Division of Business Affairs began discussing the feasibility of large-scale renewable energy purchasing that would enable the University to retain the associated RECs and environmental attributes desired. The goal of this exercise was to mitigate the majority, if not all, of the University’s main campus scope two GHG emissions (indirect emissions that result from the procurement of grid-based utilities) through a large-scale renewable energy agreement. As this process evolved, this effort was cemented in the University Strategic Plan, with a goal of reducing scope two emissions on main campus by 100% by 2025 or earlier.
More information on scope emissions and the University’s commitment to carbon neutrality can be found on our Sustainability & Climate Action Plan page.
By late 2019, with the Office of Sustainability as a key stakeholder and under the leadership of President Robert C. Robbins, the University of Arizona entered into an agreement with Tucson Electric Power to source 100% of the University's purchased electricity from renewable resources. In May 2021, this agreement came into full effect, reducing the University's GHG emissions by nearly one-third.
With 45,000 students, over 16,000 faculty and staff, and more than $734 million in research activity, the University of Arizona uses as much power as 22,000 average American homes.
This deal is the largest campus-utility bilateral agreement in North America and has enabled the University of Arizona to slash its greenhouse gas footprint by nearly one-third.
Half of the energy for this agreement (up to 26 megawatts) will be sourced from a 100-megawatt solar and storage facility at the Wilmot Energy Center in southeast Tucson, with the other half (up to 26 megawatts) sourced from the 250-megawatt Oso Grande Wind Project in southeastern New Mexico.
For TEP, having enough renewable energy to supply the University's needs helped drive the energy provider to invest in more carbon-free resources. TEP had already announced plans to build the 100-megawatt Wilmot facility and 100-megawatts of the Oso Grande Project when the University and TEP entered into negotiations. With the University's desire to drive additional capacity onto the local grid, TEP expanded the project from 100-megawatts to 250-megawatts.
As part of the larger agreement, the University and TEP agreed to fund two solar demonstration projects that help to anchor the off-site agreement to campus in a highly visible manner, enabling campus and community members alike to understand the full scope of the agreement, while also allowing for novel research and teaching opportunities.
One of these demonstration sites supported the completion of phase two of the ENR2 Rooftop PV+ Project, a system atop the University’s Environment and Natural Resources 2 building. PV+ systems are similar to "agrivolatic" systems which combine a green space or agriculture ("agri"-culture) with solar technology (photo-"voltaics") to create a hybrid system that maximizes the efficiency and benefits of each. Rather than growing food through this Project, we have planted the green roof with a mix of 35 native perennial and annual, pollinator-friendly plant species. Agrivoltaic and PV+ systems, especially rooftop systems, are an emerging area of research, particularly in arid and semi-arid environments and in areas with limited space and competing land-use needs. The second demonstration site is still under consideration but should be installed on campus by the end of 2023.
By including these demonstration projects, the University of Arizona is fulfilling its mission of institutional excellence and meeting its operational needs in ways that support both its teaching, research, and environmental sustainability goals.