SAVOY – The University of Illinois’ new solar farm outside of Savoy is entering its final phase of construction. But the facility has already been producing electricity for more than three months.
Solar Farm 2.0, located along Curtis Road between First Street and the Canadian National tracks, became operations on January 29. It covers 54 acres, enough land for 40 football fields, says Morgan White with Facilities and Services at the U of I Urbana campus. That’s more than twice the size of the university’s first solar farm, which opened along Windsor Road just south of Champaign in 2015.
White says Solar Farm 2.0 can generate nearly 20,000 megawatt hours a year, which is nearly three times the electricity of the first facility, using solar panels that can absorb sunlight from either side, and shift position to follow the sun as it moves across the sky.
“And then, at one point, they’re actually level, horizontal to the ground, as the sun passes over at midday,” said White.
The final phase of construction at the new solar farm includes the planting of native vegetation, planted as ground cover this summer. Once the plants begin flowering, probably next summer, they will support pollinating insects and other animals. White says a research team led by Iris Caldwell of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois Chicago campus will be studying the plantings, to see if they also help the solar panels to be more productive.
“We believe it creates a microcosm, reduces the heat,” said White. “And when it’s a little bit cooler on a sunny day, you actually get more power out of the panels.”
White says the first solar farm at the U of I provided 2% of the Urbana campus’ energy needs. But she says the addition of the second solar farm, plus other sustainable energy projects, has raised the campus’ clean energy production to a minimum of 12% of total campus usage.
Under the university’s Illinois Climate Action Plan, the Urbana campus hopes to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. White says projects like Solar Farm 2.0 increases the campus’ clean energy production, and allows them to reduce the amount of electricity purchased from the outside electrical grid (besides the use of solar power and outside electricity, the campus also produces electricity and steam at its Abbott power plant).
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