Saturday, February 4, 2017

Potential of Solar Power on the University of Texas Campus

In this article, the author discusses the possibility of placing solar photovoltaic and thermal panels on the roofs of buildings at the University of Texas campus to produce renewable energy. The author takes into account both the social, as well as the economical, barriers to solar panels being placed on the campus. He also looks at the positive affects the panels could potentially bring to campus by using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to analyze optimal positioning of the panels.

The University of Texas campus has an exceptional potential for solar energy. The problem is, there are social, as well as economic, barriers. Socially, the cultural value of the campus’s red clay-tiled roof space surpasses the value that could potentially be gained from placing solar panels over the space. Economically, the price of placing the panels is much too high in comparison to the current electrical generation on campus.

Although there are barriers to the panel construction, the campus is taking strides towards making the construction more possible. They are working hard to pursue subsides and research grants to offset costs as well as placing solar systems off-site from the main campus to decrease costs. They also encourage the adoption of the LEED Rating system which hopes to integrate solar energy development into new building designs. Lastly, they hope to utilize existing roof space on campus to install solar power systems.

To map out the solar potential, they used LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to model the solar radiation on the roof space of the campus. In total, 109 main campus buildings were used in the model. 

The figure above shows the resulting solar insolation layer overlaid over an aerial photograph of the university campus. The total solar radiation hitting the rooftops of the main campus every year is 4,465 GWh/year, but when you take away the slanted roofs with red tiles, which results in 43% less insolation, the solar radiation becomes 1,939 GWh/year. That is still an ample amount of insolation for the collection of solar energy. The campus would have a potential of generating 232 GWh per year.


The figure above shows the results of the breakeven point analysis on a map of the campus. The buildings highlighted in green through yellow would have the best potential for solar energy. The buildings in orange through red are the worst.

The figure above compares the Average Price of Solar to the Global Capacity of Solar Energy. Based off of the curve of production, we can see the dropping prices in solar energy. This shows that solar panels are becoming more beneficial than in previous years, which should lead to an increase in their use.

In conclusion, this analysis shows that the University of Texas campus has great potential for generating solar energy. Although extensive installation of solar panels cannot be justified solely based on an economic savings basis today, the price of solar PV is dropping and solar power may be economically advantageous for the University in the future.


Sounny-Slitine, M. A. Potential of Solar Power on the University of Texas Campus.


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  2. This is amazing to see from GIS. I like seeing the price chart in relation to the use of the panels because it really shows how much UT and other schools could benefit from placing them around campus.