If California prides itself on being a national leader in green energy, one college campus there takes its pioneering status to another level. The University of California, San Diego, a campus known for its stunning beaches and environmental sciences, recently announced an ambitious project that is expected to be only the first step in an even more ambitious plan.

In September, the university selected Borrego Solar to install a 1.2 megawatt solar electric system as part of its Comprehensive Sustainable Energy Program.

“UC San Diego prides itself on being one of the nation’s leading universities when it comes to environmental responsibility and energy efficiency,” said David Weil, assistant director of UC San Diego’s facilities management. “The launch of our comprehensive sustainable energy program continues to promote our green efforts.”

To finance the $9 million upfront cost of the solar power system, UC San Diego worked closely with Solar Power Partners to develop a customized power purchase agreement that meets UC San Diego’s long-term budgetary requirements. As the owner of the system, Solar Power Partners brings together the project financing, development oversight and long-term operations and maintenance of the solar facility, and it will sell all of the electricity produced by the system to the university. This arrangement enables UC San Diego to access solar-generated electricity without incurring the capital or long-term operational costs to procure and run the system.

The completed system will consist of 5,790 Kyocera KD205 solar modules mounted on the Price Center, the Gilman parking structure and other buildings across the 1,200-acre campus. That is only the first step.

The university takes great pride in its historic role in the study of climate change and the use of renewable power. It traces its history in the field back 50 years to the first measurement of greenhouse gas buildup, which was conducted by Charles David Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Many laud this event as the beginning of modern climate change science.

The university hopes to do its part in the worldwide effort to combat climate change by becoming the greenest university in the nation. The soon-to-be installed solar system will contribute to the 29 million total kilowatt-hours per year of green energy that the campus expects its overall efforts to produce. That is enough electricity to power more than 4,500 homes.

UC San Diego’s green energy program will continue to unfold over the next year. It will produce another 2.4 megawatts from fuel cells powered by renewable methane. The university also will begin a unique program to swap fossil fuel-generated energy for wind power. It will throttle back its natural gas-powered cogeneration plant at night and replace the power with electricity purchased from California wind farms. This program, the first of its kind in the state, will generate up to 3 megawatts of green energy.