University of Richmond's Spider Solar Project

In 2018, University of Richmond announced a partnership with sPower (now AES) to construct a 20 megawatt (MW) solar array 50 miles away from campus in Spotsylvania County. University of Richmond’s Spider Solar project made UR the first institution of higher education in the southeast to match 100 percent of its electricity needs with solar energy.

Construction of the 59,800-panel array was completed in 2020 and began operating on December 31, 2020. It was designed to produce enough energy to account for 100% of our electricity usage on campus. In each of its first two years, Spider Solar produced about 35,000 megawatt hours of electricity, neutralizing 15,140 metric tons of carbon annually, equivalent to the annual electricity use of 3,000 homes. The array also minimizes the University’s exposure to the energy market and ultimately gives UR more control over forecasting our utility expenses.

“This visionary project represents an evolution in energy management and greenhouse gas reduction at the University of Richmond,” says Rob Andrejewski, Director of Sustainability. “Like many other institutions, we began with energy efficiency to reduce our impact. We added renewable energy credits and later built an on-site solar facility. This project is the next step – a leap really – in our journey. It has environmental, social, and financial benefits and demonstrates our deep commitment to stewardship.”

With the help of Spider Solar, alongside green building, transitioning off of coal-based heating, and investment in energy efficiency projects, UR’s greenhouse gas emissions were about 70% lower in 2021 than they were in 2009.

While Spider Solar operates as a stand-alone solar photovoltaic array, it is a part of a 500 MW facility built and operated by AES. Collectively these projects make up the largest solar array east of the Rocky Mountains. 

Solar Energy at University of Richmond

University of Richmond takes environmental stewardship seriously. We are a signatory in the American Colleges and Universities Presidential Climate Commitment, and we have an ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality, or net zero carbon emissions, by 2050. Renewable energy plays a huge role in meeting this goal and the University's growing commitment to sustainability has motivated our increasing use of solar energy.

Solar power on campus began with a 2 kilowatt (kW) system at University Forest apartments in 2011. A few years later in 2016, our 204.8 kW array on the roof of the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness became the first solar array constructed in the Commonwealth under Virginia’s new Power Purchase Agreement pilot program. Most recently in 2018, University of Richmond became the first institution of higher education in the southeast to account for 100% of its electricity needs with solar energy through our 20 MW off-campus array, Spider Solar. Our innovative off-campus and on-campus solar initiatives are making UR a leader in solar energy usage and environmental stewardship. You can schedule a tour of our on-campus array, view the array's real-time energy production, and learn about actions you can take to reduce your energy usage below.

On-Campus Solar: Using Solar as a Living Lab

In Spring 2016, the University of Richmond completed installation of a 204.8 kW solar array on the roof of the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. 749 panels cover roughly 22,000 square feet of the rooftop. 76% of the panels are bifacial, allowing them to collect direct solar energy from the front and ambient energy from the back. The array also utilizes two different kinds of inverters and the two types of panels are also installed on both gravel and white TPO roofs. All of these factors enable classes to use the Weinstein Center array as a living lab, conducting research on how different types of panels, roofing, and inverters impact energy production.

This solar photovoltaic system is designed to generate around 237,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity each year, roughly equivalent to the energy needed to power 22 homes. Over the course of a year, the system has the potential to offset 364,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide. Between summer 2016 and summer 2017, the array produced 19% more electricity than predicted, totaling 283,400 kWh. View the array's real-time energy production here. University of Richmond partnered with Secure Futures, a solar energy development company, under the Virginia Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Pilot Program to install this array. According to the PPA, Secure Futures will install, maintain, and own the solar photovoltaic array on top of the Weinstein Center. The company will sell the energy generated by the photovoltaic system to the University at a fixed rate over a period of 20 years.

Solar Tours

The Office for Sustainability is now offering educational tours of the Weinstein Center's solar array. During the 20 minute tour, participants get an overview of how solar works, what is unique about our solar array, and why this array is important for the University's carbon neutrality goals.

To schedule a tour, please email at least two weeks before you would like to take a tour. The entire tour is outdoors, so please dress for the weather.

Conserve Energy & Be a Green Spider

Learn more about what you can do to conserve energy here.