Cornell approaches 100% renewable power years ahead of its goal

Campus Sustainability Office September 15, 2023

An agreement with renewable energy developer Distributed Sun holds the potential for Cornell to complete its goal of powering the Ithaca campus with 100% renewable electricity, well in advance of the campus' 2035 carbon neutrality target. Renewable electricity is a critical component of Cornell's Climate Action Plan, and together with the ongoing initiative to develop Earth Source Heat and the successfully operating Lake Source Cooling plant, is the strategy to supply 100% renewable energy (heat and cooling in addition to electricity).

The new solar photovoltaic project is expected to generate about 150,000 megawatt hours (MWh) every year - which combined with other projects developed by Distributed Sun equals >90% of the campus’ electricity needs. Paired with a 5% contribution from another solar project slated to be operational in 2025, this project rounds out Cornell's portfolio of renewable power resources and decades of work to reduce the energy consumption of Cornell buildings and activities.

The planned 110-megawatt (MW) project in Batavia, NY – some 94 miles northwest of the Ithaca campus - seeks to be operational in 2027 using bifacial panels which capture energy when the sunlight hits both the front and the back, and solar tracking technology to maximize generation. Cornell and Distributed Sun will collaborate to leverage new research on best practices for sustainable design and operation, and the completed array will continue to serve as a living laboratory supporting Cornell’s research, academic and public engagement mission.

“This project represents the culmination of more than a decade of hard work and partnership between Cornell and Distributed Sun,” said Sarah Carson, director of Cornell’s campus sustainability office and project manager for Cornell’s solar efforts. “We’ve worked together to overcome countless technical and policy barriers leading to significant, statewide changes that have paved the way for others. The agreement for this project is similarly innovative, helping us navigate the unique economic and policy challenges facing the voluntary market in New York state’s large scale renewable energy market.”

This project follows a successful track record of completing solar photovoltaic projects with Distributed Sun on Cornell campus rooftops and properties - to the tune of >28 megawatts output capacity (MWAC). These assets, plus Cornell's on campus hydroelectric plant, already generate enough power such that on sunny afternoons Cornell is 100% renewable - in other words they generate more power in a given moment than the campus is using.

The Batavia project will be one of the largest to accelerate the adoption of renewables in New York state. To ensure the project’s successful completion, Distributed Sun will work closely with the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) for construction permitting, and the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) for interconnection approval. The area’s electric grid and the upstate community it serves will benefit from the additional solar capacity.

“We applaud Cornell for its leadership in the energy transition and its bold actions to source the electricity from abundant solar power,” said Jeff Weiss, ’79, Executive Chairman at Distributed Sun and Trustee-Council Member at Cornell. “Working alongside the university to help achieve their goals has offered unique opportunities to deploy at scale and support Cornell’s exceptional community.”