Catawba College

Project Profile


Solar Electric, Solar Hot Water

Earlier in October, Catawba College announced the significant news of being featured in  The Princeton Review’s Guide to 361 Green Colleges: 2016 Edition, receiving an impressive rating of  92 on a scale of 60-99.  “We are pleased to be included in this green guide and believe that Catawba’s inclusion speaks directly to our institutional focus on and commitment to sustainability,” says Catawba College President Brien Lewis of this recognition. “From our landmark megawatt campus solar installation, to projects supported by our Green Revolving Fund and student-led zero-waste campus events, we are walking the walk of environmental responsibility.”

“It is imperative that institutions of higher learning set an example for  sustainability,” concurs Dr. John Wear, Director of the College’s Center for the Environment , saying that Catawba is proud to be the vanguard of solar energy adoption  on campuses.  Indeed, Catawba College  will produce more solar-generated electricity than all other North Carolina colleges and universities combined, according to Mike Nicklas, President of Innovative Design, a long- standing company  with a mission centered around buildings that are energy-efficient and environmentally sound. Nicklas  led the project  as a consultant for the College’s 2030 Green Step Initiative, an impressive commitment  which aims to achieve campus-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. “When you have a client like Catawba College, with both the leadership and student body having such a clear understanding of the need to pursue a sustainable path, it is no surprise to me that we would eventually end up with one of the most inspiring examples of what every college campus in the nation should be doing to become more sustainable.  We are very lucky and proud to be part of such a wonderful effort to advance sustainability,” he said of his involvement.

With the installation of campus-wide solar energy systems on eight buildings and a parking lot canopy, the College will be producing approximately 12% of its energy consumption through photovoltaics and solar thermal systems. A significant part of this project was funded by donations, but it was a group of investors that includes board members, alumni, and community leaders  that helped make this project feasible. One of the investors, Lee Wallace, says supporting the project has been very gratifying, knowing it will help the College save a considerable amount of money over time (financial savings are projected to be close to $5 million over 20 years and between $10 and $11.9 million over 30 years.) The investors are able to realize tax credits for their investment in the project, and they will donate the systems to the college after six years.

Totaling nearly 1 megawatt of  solar electric capacity,  171 kWs of total capacity are interconnected with Duke Energy as  net-metered systems, using SolarWorld SW275 modules on five campus buildings.  793 kWs  are interconnected as sell-all systems, using  Sunpower 327 modules on two buildings and a parking lot canopy array.  While the net-metered systems will deliver their  electricity (approximately 200 MWh per year) directly to its consumers in the same building, the electricity of the sell-all systems (estimated 1,056 MWh per year) will initially be sold to Duke Energy. The solar thermal systems consists of AET AE 40 collectors and will be used for water heating on five buildings, including two residence halls. All systems are monitored through an impressive web-based system that has a dashboard for each site. This provides production data, as well as ensuring that systems are operating optimally.

Photo credit:  James Poe

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