Middlebury College is going carbon-neutral

This post was originally published in 2014. The tips and techniques explained may be outdated.

Middlebury College’s solar system is crucial to its 2016 goal of carbon neutrality—zero net-release of carbon dioxide. This goal, a main component of the Vermont college’s Office of Sustainability, was implemented in 2007 as a challenge to faculty and students alike.

AllSun trackers making power with Sunny Boy inverters visible beneath the modules.

AllSun trackers making power with Sunny Boy inverters visible beneath the modules.

The 143 kW system was installed and commissioned in January 2012, and has produced approximately 243,000 kWh annually, nearly a 22 percent increase over its estimated annual production. The system consists of 34 AllEarth Renewables AllSun 20 solar trackers to maximize production from the site’s 1.5 acres on the edge of campus. Each dual-axis tracker uses 20 Evergreen 210-watt modules, paired with Sunny Boy 6000-US inverters to ensure optimal power production and long-term reliability.

Getting to zero

The affectionately named “Solar Farm” is just one aspect of the college’s PV systems, with other buildings and ground-mounted arrays adding power and helping to achieve the 2016 carbon-neutral goal. In addition to solar, Middlebury has invested in wind power, bio fuels for heating and transportation and a biomass gasification plant. To offset the needs for wood chips for gasification, the college has partnered with the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry on a 10-acre test plot of willow shrubs.

A broad view of the solar farm at Middlebury College.

A broad view of the solar farm at Middlebury College.

Annual carbon emissions reports show a light at the end of the tunnel, highlighting a 40 percent reduction in campus-wide emissions since 2007. These reductions have brought costs savings to the college, too. The solar tracker system is estimated to save the college upwards of $10,000 annually over the life of the system, while the overall savings have surpassed $1 million each year since 2007.

Less is more

To achieve the rest of the emissions offsets, Middlebury is currently adding another 500 kW of solar power and a biomethane digester. Added benefits come in the way of demand reduction in campus-wide energy efficiency and conservation.

Key to the efforts of reducing emissions is involving and educating students on the importance of energy awareness and alternative, renewable energy sources. Being energy-conscious is the first step in understanding the value of energy and the need for using clean sources of energy.

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