Researchers from UC Riverside plan on exploring the possibility of placing solar farms on agricultural land in California’s Central Valley, according to a recent press release. The release also speculated on the possibility of placing solar panels away from these farms in order to end the growing competition between the agriculture industry and solar energy industry.
UC Riverside Professor of Plant Pathology and Biology Michael Allen said that this initiative is stemmed by the fact that a majority of solar power sites currently used are in unsuitable areas that interfere with agricultural land use, creating irreversible damage. In order to combat this damage, the researchers turned to four different areas where solar panels could potentially be placed.
The first of these four is in developed areas within the agricultural landscapes, such as the rooftops and parking lots in the respective areas. The second was open, undeveloped land that is too salty for agricultural activity. The third was land contaminated by hazardous chemicals. The fourth and final type of land that was researched was reservoirs and irrigation channels that can accommodate floating solar panels.
The research found that in the 55,800 square kilometer region, 8,400 square kilometers are available for solar installation, which is around 13 times more than the researchers expected.
UCR has already explored the possibility of expanding its efforts to increase energy sustainability on its own campus. According to UC Riverside’s sustainability website, the university purchases its energy from the local municipal utility company Riverside Public Utilities. Following UCR’s initiative, the company will increase its renewable energy use from 18 percent to an expected 30 percent by the year 2020.
Riverside Public Utilities has undertaken a variety of energy-efficient projects, including retro-commissioning — the process of improving a building’s existing equipment and systems — in the Orbach Science Library and Rivera Library.
In addition, the website explains that the university has also installed an economizer, which is a mechanism designed to lower energy consumption. It will be located on the central plant’s largest boiler, resulting in an efficiency gain of roughly 35 percent. To sustain this growth, the university is currently developing a laboratory sustainability program with the aim of cutting back on energy waste in its laboratories.
UC Riverside’s Environmental Health and Safety program and Physical Plant also partnered with the “Shut the Sash” campaign, which is an initiative to educate laboratory workers on improving efficiency in their use of fume hoods, which are laboratory energy users. If left on, fume hoods can use as much energy as 3.5 single-family homes.