Grinnell College Installs On-Site Solar Array to Meet One-Third of Campus Energy Needs and Achieve Net-Zero Emissions

June 5, 2024
The 9,000-panel solar array is the largest private solar installation in the State and will significantly reduce the college’s reliance on fossil fuels

Grinnell College in Iowa has taken a significant step in reaching its net zero greenhouse gas emissions goals with the completed installation of its new 4 MW solar array. The 9,000-panel solar array is the largest private solar installation in the State and is now responsible for powering one-third of the entire college campus with renewable energy.

According to the college, a single megawatt is enough to power nearly 750 homes at once, meaning this solar array will produce four times that amount, providing power to nearly every building on campus and significantly reducing the college’s reliance on fossil fuels.

All of the solar panels, provided by Sunlight General Capital, are double-sided, allowing them to collect reflected light—such as from snow or water—and follow the sun’s path from east to west for more efficient power absorption. Although Sunlight General Capital owns the arrays, Grinnell College has purchased 100% of the array’s generated energy for the next 20 years with the possibility of a 10-year extension.

"As we continue to foster a culture of collaboration and partnership, Grinnell College is recognized as a trusted partner and a place for coalition building,” said Grinnell College President Anne Harris. “Our commitment to sustainability is demonstrated through our campus planning, institutional policies, and external partnerships, reflecting a deepened stewardship of our environment and a dedication to the common good."

Grinnell College is also currently planning to install another solar array project, spearheaded by Alliant Energy, to provide the college with an additional 2 MW of solar energy. This would allow the campus to utilize renewable energy to cover more than half of the campus’ power requirements.

In addition to these two projects, the college also features six other smaller solar power stations, which provide energy to buildings located off of the main meter, including the facilities building and the environmental education center.

“We are employers, we are neighbors, we are co-constituents of all these different communities,” Harris added. “And I do think that energy consciousness is a very palpable and real way that all colleges and universities can contribute to the … environmental well-being of the communities that they call home.”

This initiative to utilize renewable energy to power the college’s operations began in 2017 when students raised concerns over the campus’ fossil fuel use. As a result, the college board of trustees created the Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force to explore how the college could begin to transition its energy use.

In 2018, Grinnell College released its official sustainability plan, which calls for the campus to have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, and solar will continue to play a significant role in achieving these goals.

About the Author

Breanna Sandridge, Senior Editor

Breanna Sandridge is senior editor for EnergyTech and Microgrid Knowledge, both part of the energy group at Endeavor Business Media.

Prior to that, Breanna was managing editor for Machinery Lubrication and Reliable Plant magazines, both part of Noria Corp. She has two years experience covering the industrial sector.

She also is a 2021 graduate of Northeastern State University (Oklahoma) with a Bachelor's in English.