Spider Solar

UR's solar energy program sets national energy standard

February 23, 2021

University News

The University of Richmond is now one of only two U.S. higher education institutions — and the first in the Southeast — to match 100% of its electricity needs with a single solar power source. 

UR’s latest solar project, Spider Solar, is a new 20-megawatt solar energy facility that replenishes the electric grid with the same amount of renewable solar energy that the campus uses to run day-to-day operations.

The 47,000-panel solar array began operating on Dec. 31, 2020, and will produce 41,000 megawatt-hours of solar energy annually — equivalent to the annual electricity use of 5,000 homes — and will neutralize 19,720 metric tons of carbon annually.

“The University pledged in 2015 to accelerate its transition to low-carbon energy while enhancing sustainable and resilient practices across our campus,” said Director of Sustainability Rob Andrejewski. “With Spider Solar now online, UR’s greenhouse gas emissions will be 57% below where they were in 2009, putting us in a great position to aim for carbon neutrality.”

Spider Solar, which is located in Spotsylvania County, was built and is operated by sPower, which merged with AES' clean energy business early this year.

“Through a purchase power agreement, AES manages the day-to-day operations of the solar array, and UR agrees to pay a fixed price for the renewable energy it creates,” said Mark Detterick, senior associate vice president of campus operations. “By doing so, UR will be directly responsible for introducing more renewable energy onto the grid, while being able to better predict the University’s utility expenses, all without the costs associated with owning or operating a large solar facility.”

Spider Solar is UR’s second power purchase agreement. In 2016, the University constructed the first solar array in the Commonwealth under Virginia’s PPA pilot program, installing 749 solar panels on the roof of the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. The panels cover roughly 22,000 square feet of the rooftop, and classes are able to conduct research by using them as a living lab. The Office for Sustainability offers educational tours of the solar array, providing information on UR’s carbon neutrality goals.