Butte College goes all in, first net-positive college in the USA

Northern California’s Butte College has taken the sustainability world by storm in recent years. Now the first college to generate more energy than it consumes annually has created an unmatched atmosphere for sustainability.

Located in Butte County, a sprawling rural expanse of 220 thousand people known mostly for agriculture and Aaron Rodgers, Butte College has long been dedicated to effective environmental management of its land and resources. It first stepped into the sustainability arena in 1968 with the purchase of 300 acres for land management, soon followed by designating itself and surrounding land as a Wildlife Refuge in 1973.

Butte College Chico Electric
The power of the sun

Chico Electric was hired to make Butte College’s solar dreams a reality. Chico Electric is one of Northern California’s most experienced PV installers, first getting into the solar industry in the early 1970s with solar thermal and eventually solar PV in the late 1990s.

Sunny Boys and Sunny Centrals sit under a solar canopy at Butte College.

Sunny Boys and Sunny Centrals sit under a solar canopy at Butte College.

“The system at Butte College is a career highlight for me,” said Norm Nielsen, president, Chico Electric and Butte College alumnus. “We are responsible for the operations and maintenance on this system for 10 years, so we needed to have the quality equipment and customer support that only SMA offers; they do it better than the rest.”

The first three systems on the campus were installed and commissioned in 2009, with 13 more systems commissioned in 2010 and 2011 to make a total of 3.1MW (DC) of power and more than 6.5 million kWh of annual power—enough for more than 941 average-sized homes.

The nitty-gritty

Once all 16 systems were online, the college began producing 102 percent of its annual energy demands, making it grid positive. Generating all that power, and finding room for the equipment amongst a bustling college campus, was no easy task for Chico Electric.

A total of 16,763 Mitsubishi modules were used across the campus to send power to a total of 108 inverters, all of which are SMA, ranging from our Sunny Central 250-US down to our Sunny Boy 3000-US and nearly everything in between.

Mid-construction, inverters await fencing to enclose them from passing students.

Mid-construction, inverters await fencing to enclose them from passing students.

  • Sunny Central 250-US: 8
  • Sunny Boy 8000-US: 34
  • Sunny Boy 7000-US: 37
  • Sunny Boy 6000-US: 27
  • Sunny Boy 5000-US: 1
  • Sunny Boy 3000-US: 1

The next generation

Not only will this system power the college today and long into the future, the team at Chico Electric has partnered with the school to provide solar training as part of the sustainability program. With the next set of solar professionals being trained onsite, Butte’s $27.3 million investment in clean energy will be operating at full-power long after today’s students have graduated.

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