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Solar farm is up and running

A 62-acre plot on the south end of campus is now generating 14 percent of UC Davis’ electricity.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi on Nov. 20 dedicated the new 16.3-megawatt SunPower solar power plant, which will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by 9 percent.

Katehi said reducing that footprint was not only the university’s responsibility, but also its mission.

“In the fight against climate change, this is another progressive step forward for a UC Davis campus that is already a global leader in sustainability,” she said.

Bob Redlinger, SunPower commercial director, praised the UC Davis personnel who made the project go “so smoothly.”

SunPower owns and operates the plant, and sells the electricity to UC Davis.

Redlinger pointed out some of the features that make the solar plant more efficient: The panels slowly tilt throughout the day to face directly at the sun, and they are cleaned by robots.

Those robots are “local,” by the way, developed by Greenbotics, a Davis-based company that SunPower acquired in 2013.

Workers demonstrated a small fleet of the robots, which “drove” along the panel faces. Each robot sprayed a carefully measured amount of water on each panel, scrubbed it and squeegeed it. The robotic cleaning is 75 percent more water efficient than using a hose and a brush.

The bottom line: Clean panels can perform up to 15 percent better in collecting the sun’s energy.

Andrew McAllister, a member of the California Energy Commission (and whose wife, Lesley McAllister, teaches environmental law at the School of Law), said solar power has come a long way since the 1980s, when he spent time in Bolivia, Chile and other South American countries connecting rural homes to expensive, individual solar power systems.

He said the people he met there assumed that if he was bringing solar power to their homes, the United States must already have it everywhere. That still isn’t the case, but solar power is finally becoming cheap enough to make sense for large-scale energy users like UC Davis, he said.

“We’re accelerating away from fossil fuels,” McAllister said. “The coal industry is in its final throes.”

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Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu