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    Pacific is Going Solar

    Sep 27, 2010

    In the past few years, University of the Pacific has expanded its on-campus recycling programs, built two ecologically friendly buildings and broke ground on a third, planted a community garden, and offered "local" foods to reduce the carbon footprint of the campus cafeterias.

    Now it's going solar.

    This year, a dozen of the electric orange carts that are used by the University's maintenance and ground employees have been converted to solar, and there are plans to switch eight more to sun power by the end of November. The goal is to convert all of Pacific's 84 electric carts to solar during the next few years. One building also will go solar.

    "We've already eliminated several gas-powered vehicles and hope to have about one-quarter of our carts solar by Thanksgiving," said Scott Heaton, director of support services for Pacific. "This project has really been driven by the staff and their dedication in trying to figure out how to make solar power a reality on campus."

    The solar conversion project was originally conceived about four years ago, Heaton said, when Pacific made a solid commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is a measurement of how much greenhouse gas emissions are created by an organization. His employees first reduced the number of gas-powered pick-up trucks and vans that were used to move equipment and people across campus. So far, eight vehicles have been eliminated and replaced with electric-powered vehicles. A new policy also was established that said employees could only use a gas-powered truck or van to travel across campus when it was absolutely necessary, such as to transport bulky equipment that could not fit on a cart.

    They then turned to the electric carts. While considered "green," the carts still have an impact on the environment because they use electricity that is partially generated by gas and coal power plants, which generates greenhouse gases.

    Initially, the University looked at purchasing pre-made solar-powered carts but found the costs prohibitive. Then employees did some research and discovered "stick on" photovoltaic panels that could be stuck on the roof of a cart and wired to recharge the cart's batteries as it was being driven around campus. The employees then started converting the carts, Heaton said.

    The results have been better than expected. Before the solar project, the carts had to be recharged several times a week, with a handful of them needing to be charged twice a day due to heavy use. Since they went solar, Heaton said the carts have run for weeks at a time without needing to be plugged in.

    "This has been a real cost saver for the University because PG&E charges extra for using power during peak times during the spring and summer, which is when most of our employees are working and most of the carts are being recharged," Heaton said. "My goal is to have all of our campus vehicles completely solar in the next few years."

    The carts aren't the only examples of solar power at Pacific. Plans are underway to install solar panels on the roof of the recently opened John T. Chambers Technology Center in the next year, to further reduce the University's footprint, Heaton said. Those panels will then generate about 25,464 kilowatt/hours of electricity each year, enough to power three average American homes during a 12-month period.