By Billy Ludt
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign marked the completion of its 12.3-MWdc solar farm by planting native pollinator habitat on the 54-acre site.
The project is the second solar farm constructed at the U of I and achieves clean energy sustainability goals outlined in the university’s Illinois Climate Action Plan, nearly four years ahead of schedule. Clean energy production will now support approximately 12% of the school’s annual electricity demand.
The solar site will serve as a demonstration and research location for pollinator-friendly solar arrays. The solar array exceeded the required 85 minimum points established by the state’s Pollinator Friendly Solar Site Act, achieving a “Provides Exceptional Habitat” status.
The custom seed mix designed by Natural Resource Services has more than 21 different plant types that are native to the area, making the land between and around the panels more resilient and create a natural habitat for a variety of local and migratory birds and insects. In total, the site will contain more than 6.5 million flowering plants and native grasses.
Solar Farm 2.0 was developed by national solar energy firm Sol Systems, which was built with bifacial solar panels, single-axis trackers, and zero waste construction practices. Capital Dynamics will serve as owners of the project with Sol Systems managing the asset throughout the 20-year term of the agreement.
“In only four months, Solar Farm 2.0 has already become an integral part of the university’s energy enterprise,” said Mohamed Attalla, Facilities & Services executive director. “There are days when the array is meeting almost 30% of the university’s electrical demand for that day. It has been extraordinary to watch this site’s renewable energy make an immediate impact to support learning and discovery across campus.”
In combination with other solar installations on campus, the Urbana campus is now generating approximately 27,000 MWh/year, ranking UIUC third amongst U.S. universities in onsite clean power production.
U of I will purchase all energy produced by the array under a power purchase agreement (PPA) at a fixed price over a 20-year term. In addition to the long-term fixed-rate, the PPA let the university go solar with no upfront costs, providing an expected $300,000 in savings in the first year alone.
“The use of innovative technology and land-use practices and strong, ongoing partnership between Sol Systems and the University of Illinois is what makes this project so remarkable,” said William Graves, director of originations at Sol Systems. “Solar Farm 2.0 is a marquee project not only for the university but also for the state of Illinois.”
Indiana-based Inovateus Solar constructed the solar arrays.
“Inovateus Solar is truly excited to have partnered with Sol Systems and contributed our best practices for sustainable solar construction. We believe this solar farm will be the new role model for ultra-sustainable solar development,” said T.J. Kanczuzewski, CEO of Inovateus Solar. “We’re also proud to have assisted U of I in meeting an important sustainability goal for the campus. Helping to preserve the environment for current and future students and faculty directly reflects our company mission of ‘building a brilliant tomorrow.’”
Sol Systems and Inovateus worked with students in the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment’s campuswide sustainability minor to assess the carbon footprint of Solar Farm 2.0 from sourcing to installation. Sol Systems will use the reports, produced by the student groups as part of their Sustainability, Energy and Environment Fellows Program capstone, to assess potential sustainability improvements to all future projects.