Scott Smith, March 14, 2017

In writing about science, philanthropy and the arts here at BTN LiveBIG, there are topics that come up often: prosthetics, health care, veterans, kids? programs and drones (so many drones).

So when we come upon a topic like a university (in this case, Michigan State) installing a set of five solar carports to reduce the use of fossil fuels, improve the environment and broaden its innovation efforts, we?re certainly impressed – the solar panels will eventually provide for 5% of the university?s electricity output – but hey, we?ve been around the block a few times and this isn?t our first solar panel rodeo (to mix metaphors in the extreme).

But a promise to help lower tuition costs by saving the university $10 million dollars over 25 years? Now that?s a combination of innovation and, uh, philanthropy we can get behind.

?The obvious advantage of this project for our students, faculty and staff is cleaner air due to the emissions-free generation of electricity,? said Wolfgang Bauer, a University Distinguished Professor in physics who is assisting with the project. ?However, there are significant other benefits such as reducing the university?s utility costs over time. This, in the end, will have a direct effect on keeping tuition rates as low as possible.?

In all seriousness, the goals of this project aren?t just financial, they?re educational, too.

?Student teams from the College of Engineering are already working in collaboration with our faculty and infrastructure employees on using the arrays to research topics such as new power inverter technology,? he said.

Like many other ?green? efforts, the cost savings will come through a power purchase agreement through a solar energy provider and is part of a larger campus-wide energy improvement plan.

Plus, the artist?s rendering looks appropriately futuristic. Finally, the Jetsons-based future we were promised is coming to fruition.