Solar parking canopy at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Mass.
Colleges benefit from generating renewable energy in ways that actually go beyond savings and environmental stewardship — multiplying the positive impacts of solar on their campuses:
Hands-On Learning Opportunities
Renewable energy provides a wealth of practical learning opportunities for students. Environmental science professors can work with students to track air quality and emissions data; economics or accounting courses can chart reductions in the school’s energy spending; engineering students can study how photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into energy. Schools also can leverage the real time data-tracking capabilities many solar developers provide when they install a project, providing students with an endless supply of data for projects and research.
Potential Recruitment Boost
By many accounts, students looking at colleges right now — late Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) — and Generation Zers (born in the late ‘90s to 2010) belong to the greenest generations yet. Millennial consumers have been shown to prefer brands with a positive environmental or social impact, while members of Gen Z are profoundly tuned in to global environmental concerns. Some of the leading college ranking publications even now include a scoring metric for “greenness” and solar is a great way to improve your ranking. Including your school’s solar array in regular campus tours can be another good strategy for enhancing your appeal to prospective students and faculty alike. The 3.2 megawatt solar installation pictured above at Bristol Community College was the largest solar parking canopy in New England when it was unveiled in August 2015. It now no doubt houses some of the most coveted spots on campus for the shade, weather protection, and feel-good boost they provide.
Stronger Community Ties
Another great way universities get the broader campus community inspired and talking about solar on campus is to provide discounts on residential solar systems to the staff and even sometimes alumni. This is something most larger solar providers can arrange and frequently do, since it saves marketing dollars. As a result, embracing renewables also can lower the carbon footprint of your community and support clean energy growth and investment in your state. In this way, your university’s influence in adopting solar energy can go beyond even your local community and impact your city, state, or region more broadly. Best of all, schools can take advantage of these benefits through many types of solar projects.