The recent announcement by University of California President Janet Napolitano of the 80 megawatt solar project east of Fresno represents a strong commitment by the UC to slow climate change.
Producing electricity from solar directly affects the need to extract and burn an equivalent amount of fossil fuels, and reduces emissions of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas responsible for enhanced climate warming.
The project makes sense economically as well as for the Earth’s climate. It will mean more production of electricity here in the San Joaquin Valley, and reduce dependence on global oil and gas markets.
Decarbonizing our economy is an important step toward achieving a sustainable future. We need more projects like this solar array so we can reach the goals of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. We will need more measures to achieve the more aggressive goals of California’s follow-up executive orders to reduce greenhouse emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
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This solar project is part of the larger initiative Napolitano announced last fall to make UC campuses, including hospitals, carbon neutral by 2025.
We expect UC to move aggressively to do much more in coming years, and to continue partnering with private-sector investors and firms.
In addition to moving from fossil fuel to solar electricity, a second part of the UC initiative involves deep energy savings in buildings. These savings will go well beyond changing light bulbs, addressing heating and cooling, overall lighting and water use.
Like some other campuses, UC Merced was built with energy conservation in mind – but many of the older buildings on the other nine UC campuses were not. Some have been or are scheduled to be retrofitted for greater efficiency.
It makes sense for UC to take the lead in California on achieving energy savings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. UC brings the power of research together with the entrepreneurship of our faculty members, students and graduates to identify, evaluate and implement climate solutions.
There are also many opportunities for UC to work with agricultural partners in the San Joaquin Valley on the third leg of the immediate UC campus sustainability initiative, to produce biogas.
While not yet price-competitive with natural gas, promising research indicates we can improve biogas technology and reduce cost.
In summary, this solar project and the broader climate initiative are the right thing for the region, the state and the nation.
UC Merced and other campuses have a great chance to build stronger partnerships with government and industry to bring new technology to enhance renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions form fossil fuels.
UC looks forward to working with others in the region to achieve a more sustainable future for our children through projects like the new solar array and through our many research projects and innovations.