It’s been an electric season for the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers football team, and not just because they’ll be playing for a national championship this Saturday.
Every time the Orediggers’ Division II title contenders took the field this fall, they were surrounded by buildings and parking lots sporting newly installed solar panel arrays aimed at making the brainiac school’s campus far more self-sufficient in energy use.
There are now enough solar panels at Mines to produce at least 1.5 megawatts of the 8 peak megawatts needed to run the engineering school’s daily life for 7,000 students and countless high tech, energy-intensive research projects.
And a good portion of the whole plan was designed by School of Mines students, as part of their senior capstone projects over the years. The message from school leadership is twofold: School of Mines is about much more than mining and oil drilling, raising engineers and teachers in renewable energy, environmental engineering and dozens of other fields.
But a changing world still needs responsible orediggers.
“You can’t have renewables without mining,” said School of Mines sustainability director Lauren Poole, marching toward the Golden foothills on a solar panel tour in a biting early December wind. Lithium and cobalt for EV batteries, refining silicon for solar panels, petroleum products for plastics and other parts for wind energy, all lean on engineers steeped in nearly 150 years of Mines tradition, school officials say.
School of Mines will keep adding projects that take the fossil fuels impact out of campus energy needs. Another large solar array will be incorporated into the proposed Mines Park apartment village on the west side of U.S. 6 from the main campus, with students again aiding in the design.
School of Mines partners with the nearby National Renewable Energy Laboratory to offer graduate degrees in advanced energy systems. Between students, faculty and NREL, Golden is crawling with solar experts to consult and design on any given project.
The six new solar arrays now coming online around the football stadium and other campus buildings cost $4.8 million, and were paid for using an innovative “energy savings performance contract” designed to help governments or other institutions finance big solar arrays. A third-party energy consultant studies how much energy will be saved by a proposed renewables project, writes a contract with Xcel or whoever will be buying the power, and is paid back over time for the solar construction from the cost savings.
The largest new array, at 495 kilowatts, serves as a canopy over the K Lot for athletics parking. Solar panels are also incorporated into umbrellas over campus picnic tables, so students and staff can charge devices on the go.
When all the new panels are connected to the grid in coming weeks, Mines will have surpassed its Sustainability Strategic Plan goal of supplying at least 5% of campus building needs by 2024; the university will be at about 6% with the latest panels, spokeswoman Emilie Rusch said.
The renewables share would be boosted further with planned completion of Mines Park and its solar garden by 2024.