It turns out Harvard leads among schools in another category: Among Boston-area universities, it has, by far, the most solar energy capacity.
Harvard can produce up to 555 kilowatts from three solar panel locations, most of which comes from a 500-kw setup at The Arsenal on the Charles commercial complex in Watertown, home to Harvard Business School Publishing.
But according to a list of Massachusetts colleges and universities with solar photovoltaic installations by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, only Tufts, Northeastern, MIT and UMass Boston have any panels on campus buildings — and none of them come close to being able to produce as much as Harvard’s setups.
Harvard is in the midst of an energy consumption diet, Colin Durrant, manager of sustainability communications for Harvard, said. He said the University’s schools and its affiliates, such as Harvard Real Estate, “plan and implement renewable energy projects on their campuses and/or on Harvard-owned buildings as part of their individual strategies to reduce energy use and curb greenhouse gas emissions.”
The idea of solar panels has crossed the mind of students and faculty at other Boston schools, however.
Four Emerson students are trying to get their college thinking about solar panel installation, as reported last week in the student newspaper, the Berkeley Beacon. They’re creating a proposal to bring to the Emerson President’s Committee on Sustainability for consideration.
“It is completely free electrical energy,” student Gene Meyer said in the Beacon article. “It can reduce electricity cost for the school.”
It isn’t completely free, though. Schools have to weigh the benefit of producing their own electricity with the big initial installation cost. The group of Emerson students peg the cost at $32,000. But there is still a number of incentives available through state and federal programs.
More pressing is the space, Emerson professor Jon Honea said, who’s guiding the group of students to come up with a solar panel proposal. And while there’s still work to do on educating people how to build the framework for them, he said, space is a situation weighing on Emerson.
“My students are working on clarifying this uncertainty at Emerson College, but we still have the space issue,” Honea said. “As an urban campus with vertical buildings, we have less area per student, staff, and faculty than many schools.”
He also said Emerson’s urban campus problems are probably what’s keeping other urban Boston universities from adopting the technology.
“I expect it applies to most urban landowners that use a typical or greater amount of power,” Honea said. “Alternative energy sources cause less pollution and emit a smaller amount of CO2 than fossil fuels but they require a bigger spatial footprint.”
Honea said even universities with sprawling, suburban campuses might not want to give up space to stash solar panels, but contends it doesn’t have to be viewed as a sacrifice.
“We would like to use our panels as an educational tool to demonstrate how solar power works,” he said. “At the same time, we’re working on reducing our carbon footprint in other ways, from increased efficiency, to purchasing energy from a provider that itself makes solar and other alternatives part of its energy portfolio. Our collective energy problems are substantial and require many people and institutions working on it in many diverse ways to make a significant difference.”
No doubt, Boston’s colleges are going green and taking big strides toward sustainability. But there’s so much more that can be done in terms of alternative energy use. Right now, only one major higher ed institution has the potential to kick up some serious kilowatts, and that’s Harvard.
Photo: Flickr/Living Off Grid