To meet our current energy needs, Saint John’s has invested and continues to look towards creating renewable energy on campus. These projects not only provide our campus with clean energy, but also offer the chance for students, faculty, and staff to learn about and research these new technologies.
When completed in December 2009, the first portion of the Saint John’s Abbey Energy Farm was the largest ground-mounted photovoltaic array in Minnesota. The solar panels were installed on 3.9 acres of the Abbey's land. To maximize efficiency, the array is made of single-axis tracking panels which use GPS to follow the sun as it moves across the sky. These panels provided 4% of our annual energy needs and could offset up to 20% of peak power requirements. The solar farm was made possible by a two million-dollar grant from Xcel Energy's Renewable Development Fund, Saint John’s Abbey, and Westwood Renewables.
In November 2014, the initial solar field was expanded. A row of fixed panels was installed on both the north and south sides of the existing solar field. The additional panels provided an additional 181 kilowatts of capacity. With the addition, the solar field provided 6% of our energy annually, and up to 30% in peak conditions. Approximately 600 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided each year as a result of this investment in renewable energy.
With the success of the first two solar installations, a 23-acre community solar garden was completed in January 2017. This addition, named the Orion Community Solar Garden, provides six local organization with 5,100,000 kWh of solar energy every year. Saint John's purchases 40% of this energy which supplies 13.4% of our annual energy needs. In total this means that 18.75% of our annual energy needs are provided by solar energy.
The possibility of research is another great benefit of having a solar field on campus. Having both fixed and tracking panels in the same field is a unique occurrence, and it offers the the chance for students, faculty, and other interested individuals to view a direct comparison between the efficiencies of the two technologies.
Fun Fact: One of our alumni, Steve Fait ’94, was a writer and producer of The Man with the Golden Sun , which was created for the “Putting the Sun to Work for Minnesota” film contest, presented by Solar Works for Minnesota and Environment Minnesota.
Research has been conducted to determine if a large 2.0 MW wind turbine would be a viable option for energy production at Saint Johns. Unfortunately, it was determined that our campus is near the minimum level of wind speed required for this type of turbine making it an unlikely option. Although a 2.0 MW turbine would not be feasable at our campus with current technology, smaller scale turbines could be a source of energy in the future.
As the on-campus Power Plant heats and cools our buildings, it also creates approximately one-fourth (25%) of the electricity consumed on campus. Co-generation means there are two uses for the steam. The primary role of steam production is to heat and cool our buildings; the electricity is a side benefit. Our boilers produce high pressure steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. The turbines drop the steam from high pressure steam down to the low pressure steam that is used by campus buildings.