Temple University has not achieved renewable energy goal

The university is facing challenges in producing a minimum 100 kilowatts of renewable energy.

Temple University’s Edberg-Olson Hall, on Diamond Street near 10th, has 4,500 square feet of solar panels on its roof. The array is the first solar power installation on a Philadelphia campus. | RJ FRANCESCHINI / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University did not achieve its goal of having at least 100 kilowatts of renewable energy, a zero-carbon emission energy source, in university facilities by 2022.

The university faced several challenges to meeting this goal, including the cost of renewable energy, lack of space for solar panels, the prioritization of other sustainability projects, like green roofs, and the instability of the market for power-purchase agreement. In a power-purchase agreement, a developer arranges the installation and maintenance of a renewable energy source for a customer at a lesser cost in exchange for a flat rate from the customer and tax incentives. 

The university originally viewed power-purchase agreements as a potential solution to the cost, space and priority challenges that could surface from the university installing renewable energy sources themselves, said Rebecca Collins, director of sustainability. However, a proposal with a potential developer fell through after the developer was unsure if they would have the labor and supplies needed to fulfill the project due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since then, Temple has not sent out any requests for power-purchase agreements because the project has become increasingly more expensive, Collins said. 

However, Collins and Kurt Bresser, Temple’s utilities and energy manager, meet weekly to assess cost, availability and practicality of particular projects, Bresser said.

“It’s most likely not going to happen in 2022, and I don’t know, because of the volatility of the market, it’s hard to project when it’s going to happen in the future,” Collins said.

The cost of Temple independently installing solar panels is not always worth the low amount of energy it generates, Collins said. The 63 kilowatt solar panels installed on the roof of Edberg-Olson Hall in 2013 generate less than 10 percent of the energy at the facility, she added. 

“The offsets for when we’re thinking about it from a financial perspective of how much does it cost versus how much generation is going to happen?,” Collins said. “It’s not a lot, there’s not a lot of savings there.”

Finding space for solar panels on roofs is also difficult because heating and cooling infrastructure often takes up space on a roof, and buildings on Main Campus were not built to accommodate the additional weight of solar panels, Collins said. 

Natalie Flynn, an earth and environmental science professor, hopes new buildings that are built on Temple’s campus will be able to adapt to more environmentally-friendly structures.

Temple also must determine whether they want to prioritize roof space for other sustainability projects, including green roofs like the one on Charles Library, which can aid stormwater management in Philadelphia, Collins said. 

“There has to be a project that we can integrate renewable energy into, and then if that opportunity presents itself, then we make a determination of whether or not integration of renewables is feasible and what would the cost of that be,” Collins said.

While Temple’s renewable energy initiative is temporarily on hold, the university is supporting research projects on solar energy, Collins said. 

Sujith Ravi, director of the environmental science department and an earth and environmental science professor, is conducting research on how renewable energy integrates with agriculture. Temple’s College of Science and Technology and the Ambler Campus’ Field Station are providing access to resources needed to build a site for planting crops under solar panels.

Collins believes Temple will be held accountable to eventually reaching their minimum 100 kilowatts of renewable energy goal because they want to be carbon neutral by 2050. This will push the university to investigate different ways to reduce carbon emissions, Collins said. 

Both Temple and the City of Philadelphia have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 with Temple on track to reach their goal by 2050, according to the Office of Sustainability’s 2020-21 sustainability report

“​​Gotta keep it in the news, keep it as a priority, so that when financial decisions are made or building decisions are made, that there’s enough of a loud enough voice and a strong enough voice that they go, we need to listen to the consideration, so that it’s not just pushed aside,” Flynn said.

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