MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota wants to be carbon emission neutral by 2050 and took a step in that direction Wednesday by unveiling nine new solar energy sites.

Right now, one fourth of the University of Minnesota is powered by renewable energy. Most of it is generated off-site but the urban campus is making room for several solar panel installations near the law school.

“The university really aspires to be on the leading edge of this energy transition in the state of Minnesota,” Shane Stennes, director of sustainability for the University of Minnesota, said.

Nine new carport, rooftop and ground-mounted solar panel sites on campus will generate enough power for about 228 homes, which covers about one percent of the university’s needs.

“I think the science is pretty clear that we need to get to carbon neutrality as soon as possible,” said Stennes.

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Solar panels actually perform well in colder climates. Similar to electronics, the panels don’t like to be overheated. As long as they are not snow-covered, a sunny winter day can be optimal for performance.

The car port panels also serve as a shield for cars, keeping them cool on a hot summer day and reducing the need to turn up the air conditioning,

“Trying to be mindful of maximizing and trying to get multiple uses out of the same site has been really key for us,” Stennes said.

Cutting carbon emissions has already been a good thing for the University pocketbook.

“Over the last ten years we’ve avoided about $40 million in utility costs that we didn’t have to pay,” Stennes said.

The panels compliment other ongoing projects like retrofitting the lighting across the campus’s 24 million square feet of space and adding charging stations for electric vehicles.

“We’re always continuing to look for how do we supply the campus with more sources of renewable energy?” Stennes said.

The University hopes to cut carbon emissions in half by 2020 by mostly focusing on efficiency inside their campus buildings. In order to reach their goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, leaders say they will need the community to evolve alongside the university.

“It’s really part of a broader societal effort that will be required in order to make that transition to the clean energy economy,” said Stennes.

The cost of the nine new solar panel sites was roughly $6 million. The university paid $2.6 million but will recoup most of that cost as a credit on their utility bill.

Erin Hassanzadeh