Solar Panel Project Under Way at Second Street Garage
More than 1,100 solar panels will generate electricity while providing shade on the roof of one of the UA's busiest parking garages.

By Alexis Blue, University Communications
Aug. 5, 2009

Drivers who park in the Second Street Garage on campus may have noticed that it's getting a makeover. It's all part of The University of Arizona's effort to become a greener campus.

A framework is being constructed this week to support more than 1,100 photovoltaic electricity panels, which will be placed above the garage's 25,000-square-foot top level by mid-month. It is the first of a series of solar panel and solar water-heating unit installations to take place on campus this coming year.

On April 22, Earth Day, UA President Robert N. Shelton announced a University partnership with APS Energy Services that will allow for an unprecedented number of solar devices on some of campus' most prominent structures, including the centrally located Second Street Garage, near the Student Union Memorial Center.

"The University of Arizona will shrink its carbon footprint over time, and today is an important step in that direction," Shelton said during a news conference that day. "From research to student activity to the manner in which we manage our physical plant, the UA is creating a culture of conservation and sustainability that this century demands of us."

The Second Street garage is the largest of the planned projects. The roofs of McClelland Hall, McClelland Park and the Student Recreation Center also will be blanketed in solar panels. Altogether, the panels will generate 500 kilowatts of power for the buildings on which they're located, with any excess power going into the UA's electricity grid for campuswide distribution, said Ralph Banks, assistant director of Planning, Design and Construction (formerly the department of Facilities Design and Construction and the department of Campus and Facilities Planning).

While the contribution only represents a fraction of the campus' energy needs, it's an important first step in the University's mission to become a more environmentally sustainable campus and a leader in solar power, said Banks, project manager for the solar installations.

"We are a research institute and we live in a part of the U.S. where we like to think we're going to become the solar capital, and it's part of our larger sustainable mission," he said.

In addition the photovoltaic panels, solar water-heating units will be installed to heat the Student Recreation Center and Hillenbrand Aquatic Center pools. The combination of solar panels and water-heating units makes the project a unique undertaking, Banks said.

Through the University's agreement with APS Energy Services, the power company will design, construct, own, operate and maintain the solar installations on campus, while the University will be billed monthly for the energy they produce, Banks said.

By converting 500 kilowatts of power to solar sources, the University expects to shrink its carbon footprint, or environmental impact, by approximately 2,209 metric tons of carbon dioxide. 

Because the panels on Second Street Garage will be elevated about 10 feet off the ground, they'll create covered parking on a level of the garage previously open to the sun.

"It will be providing us with power and with shade, which is (at) a premium around here," Banks said.

The five projects currently planned on campus will likely set the stage for additional initiatives in the future, Banks said.

"We're going to be using this as a learning exercise, and hopefully get some of our research folks involved in monitoring the performance of the panels," he said.

The Second Street Garage's top level, which has 102 parking spaces, was closed to the public when preparation for the project began July 20, said Mike Delahanty, operations manager for Parking and Transportation Services. It is expected to reopen for parking by Aug. 17, a week before the fall semester starts. The panels, however, will not become operational until sometime in September, Banks said.

In the meantime, the project's progress can be viewed via a live webcam.  

During construction, the Highland Avenue Parking Garage, at 1240 N. Highland Ave., is a nearby alternative for drivers unable to find a spot in the Second Street structure, Delahanty said.

For more information on ways in which the UA is working to become a more sustainable campus, visit the Campus Sustainability Committee Web site. For stories and videos on UA sustainability efforts, visit the Project Sage page on