Elon University’s Loy Farm working to create a greener community through solar energy

By Lily Hamilton

Elon University’s collaboration with Duke Energy is a sustainable partnership in more ways than one.

Jessica Bilecki, Loy Farm’s Education and Outreach Coordinator of three years, led Elon students on a tour of the farm Wednesday.

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Jessica Bilecki in front of Elon’s solar farm. Photo by Lily Hamilton.

Elon University purchased Loy Farm in 2000 and mainly used it for biology classes until 2011, when the AgroEcology program increased student engagement. In 2012, Elon students helped build up the farm into what it is today: an interactive area that proudly houses a solar farm, environmental center, design studio and agricultural space.

The solar farm, leased by Elon University to Loy Farm Solar LLC, boasts 9,900 solar panels and produces 4,500 megawatt hours (Mwh) of electricity per year. To put that into perspective, the solar panels produce enough energy to power 415 U.S. homes each year, according to Bilecki.

Among all of Loy Farm’s projects, the solar farm is the one that piqued the interest of Bilecki’s tour group — and the interest of Duke Energy.

“Any time you do something like this, you have to develop partnerships to be successful,” Bilecki said of Elon University’s collaboration with Duke Energy, a local for-profit sustainable electric and gas company. Elon University and Loy Farm have agreed to sell the solar-generated energy to the company, who ties it into the power grid through transformers.

Duke Energy uses energy from the campus’s solar panels to power the surrounding communities. However, there is potential for the university to purchase the solar farm for its exclusive use after 15 years. Right now, the solar panels power roughly 10 percent of Elon University’s annual electrical use.

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A look inside one of Loy Farm’s greenhouses. Photo by Lily Hamilton.

If the university were to purchase the solar farm in the future, it would help offset the campus’s carbon emissions. By 2037 Elon University hopes to have carbon neutrality, or a net zero carbon footprint. This is a long and difficult process.

“If we change our behaviors and use less, this type of technology could be producing more,” Bilecki said of the campus’s solar energy farm. By reducing emissions and becoming more energy-conscious as a whole, the campus will greatly increase its carbon credits. “In 15 years, when we’re a lot closer to the 2037 date, we’re going to want those credits,” Bilecki said.

The solution to total carbon neutrality is complicated. Otherwise, it would already be solved. In the meantime, Elon University and Loy Farm will continue to work with Duke Energy to model sustainability for the town of Elon and beyond.

For more information on Loy Farm and its upcoming projects, visit: http://www.elon.edu/eweb/academics/elon_college/environmental_studies/farm/default.xhtml.

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