University makes major solar commitment

Project will increase solar output on all campuses by 1,150 percent over current levels by this fall

A section of one of the solar arrays installed on the roof of North Campus. Click here for a high-res version. (Credit: James Byard/WUSTL Photos)

Washington University in St. Louis is moving forward with a bold and impactful plan to increase solar output on all campuses by 1,150 percent over current levels by this fall. The project demonstrates the university’s commitment to sustainable operations and to reducing its environmental impact in the St. Louis region and beyond.

Students integral in identifying solar sites
The university’s new scattered solar array could not have been accomplished without the important work of two WUSTL seniors.

Rachel Goldstein and Tyler Loucky were instrumental in helping to identify off-campus sites that would make good locations for solar installations, based on a variety of factors.

The pair researched solar power technology, energy loads and roof types, performed cost-benefit analyses and worked on scalability.

“Rachel and Tyler collected and analyzed data on hundreds of potential sites, helping us focus in on the best candidate buildings for solar installations,” said Phil Valko, director of sustainability. “Their contributions were critical to the successful launch of the solar project.”

“I think that solar energy and renewables in general are incredibly important, especially here in St. Louis,” said Goldstein, majoring in environmental biology, in Arts & Sciences, and environmental engineering, in the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

“I see solar as an affordable, reliable and sustainable fuel source that is absolutely necessary to meet the world’s energy needs while looking ahead to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Loucky, a double major in environmental policy and economics, both in Arts & Sciences, agrees.

“Solar power and other renewable energies are the way of the future, and it’s important for high-profile companies and universities to support this growing industry to show others that it is economically feasible in addition to being environmentally sustainable,” she said.

Both students worked as interns in the Office of Sustainability during their time on campus.

After graduation, Goldstein will be a fellow with Green Corp., an environmental advocacy group that trains young people to become organizers to promote more sustainable practices in the United States.

Loucky will be working at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis as a sustainability intern.

This spring and early summer, the university will add a total of 379 kilowatts (kw) of solar on university-owned property throughout the region. Prior to this installation, the university had 33 kw that were installed as demonstration projects.

“These solar projects represent Washington University’s first major investment in renewable energy,” said Phil Valko, director of sustainability. “The investment will pay off by producing enough emission-free energy to power the electrical usage of 53 average U.S. homes, at a savings of $190,000 over 10 years.”

Based on the carbon intensity of grid electricity in Missouri, which is among the highest in the U.S., this will reduce the university’s output the equivalent of 385 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

“As a university community, we are making great strides in being better stewards of our resources,” said Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration. “Last year, we committed to invest $30 million over seven years to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 22 percent by 2020. This investment in solar energy is among a series of projects that will help us further reduce our carbon footprint and reduce operating costs.

Most of the solar arrays are being installed on flat roofs, including the Lofts of Washington University (75 kw), North Campus (75 kw), West Campus (75 kw), the Family Learning Center (25 kw), the 560 Music Building (25 kw) and the University City Children’s Center (50 kw).

In addition, Tyson Research Center will have a 50 kw ground-mounted array, and a 4-kw solar carport will be installed over an electric vehicle charging station in front of Brauer Hall on the Danforth Campus. The carport will power the car chargers and be used in battery storage research by the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

Two WUSTL seniors, Rachel Goldstein and Tyler Loucky, were instrumental in helping to identify off-campus sites that would be feasible for photovoltaic rooftop systems. (See sidebar.)

The solar projects were developed as solar leases, with 304 kw developed in partnership with Microgrid Solar and U.S. Bank and 75 kw developed in partnership with Brightergy. The companies own, install and maintain the arrays for the duration of the lease, with minimal up-front cost to the university. Solar rebates from Ameren Missouri were an important component of the project financing.

WUSTL will directly use the solar-generated electricity at each installation site, reducing the amount of energy each building will draw from the grid. The university will pay pre-determined annual lease payments that will be less than the value of the solar electricity generated by the arrays. The percentage of each building’s total electricity usage that will be generated by solar arrays will vary from 1 to 58 percent, depending on the size and energy intensity of each building, with an average of 15 percent across all the sites.

“Many talented individuals at the university contributed their time and expertise to make this project a reality,” Valko said. “It simply would not have happened without support from the treasurer’s office, the general counsel’s office, the resource management team, our facilities teams at Danforth and the School of Medicine, the financial planning team, the real estate team and Tyson Research Center.”

For more information about Washington University’s sustainability initiatives, visit

Cutting the ribbon at the official “roof breaking” event April 23 are (from left) Pratim Biswas, PhD, the Lucy & Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science; senior Tyler Loucky; Himadri Pakrasi, PhD, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor and director of I-CARES (International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability); Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton; Phil Valko, director of sustainability; senior Rachel Goldstein; and Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration. (Credit: James Byard/WUSTL photos)