UCR has been actively working on using renewable energy on campus to reach energy independence.This summer, they took a step closer to that goal. More than 9,600 solar panels were installed in parking lots 30 and 32 over break and will function as solar canopies, providing shade for cars as well as generating electricity for the school.

The addition of the solar parking lot now places UCR in second place in the UC system for onsite renewable energy, right behind UC Davis. All UC campuses are building toward a common goal of “emitting net zero greenhouse gasses from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025” set by the Carbon Neutrality Initiative initiated by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2013.

SunPower, the company responsible for the construction and the finance of this project, will own the solar panels and UCR will purchase the generated electricity from them. The 4.3 megawatt solar project costs about $14.4 million and will generate enough energy to power 788 homes, or 7.6 million kWh in the first year of operations. This solar parking lot will now be the third solar project completed with SunPower to achieve energy independence. The first one was completed in 2013 as a 3.4 megawatt solar farm by lot 30 and the second was a smaller solar parking lot at UCOP IntelliCenter.

Currently, there are two types of solar technology: Solar thermal and photovoltaic. Solar thermal systems absorb the sun’s radiation and convert it into energy to heat homes and water. Photovoltaic systems collect sunlight and replace or supplement the energy collected on a utility grid. SunPower’s solar panels on UCR’s campus use photovoltaic systems to generate electricity.

Access to solar paneling systems has now increased as the average price of U.S. solar system cost has come down dramatically from $10 per megawatt in 2000 to just below $4 in 2013. Large economies across the world are also investing in solar energy, such as China who installed the most photovoltaics in 2014, as well as India and several European nations. Big business are also investing in solar systems such as Walmart, Verizon and Apple by switching their stores from fossil fuel to solar energy. For example, Apple purchased 130 megawatts from First Solar in February of 2015 for $850 million.

Along with declining prices of solar energy, the International Energy Agency estimates solar systems to account for five percent of global electricity consumption by 2030 and 16 percent by 2050. The U.S. government also provides incentives for commercial and residential usage of solar power by providing Renewable Energy Tax Credit so a taxpayer can claim a credit of up to 30 percent.