How Virginia’s Colleges Stack up on Renewable Energy

A solar installer places a solar panel on Washington and Lee's parking canopy.
A solar installer places a solar panel on Washington and Lee’s parking canopy.

Colleges and universities across the United States have been recognized as leaders in adopting renewable energy sources such as solar power. Wondering how Virginia stacks up to states across the country? Here’s the answer.

In Virginia, only Washington and Lee University in Lexington (ranked 63) and James Madison University in Harrisonburg (ranked 70) crack the top 100 schools nationally for their use of renewable electricity, according to America’s Top Colleges for Renewable Energy, a report put out this spring by Environment America.

Here’s where all Virginia colleges and universities listed in the report rank for their use of clean energy from all sources, whether on-campus or off-campus:

College or University NameRank
Washington and Lee University63
James Madison University70
George Mason University108
Virginia Commonwealth University122
University of Virginia137
Virginia Tech139

The rankings are based on the amount of renewable energy available per full-time equivalent student. In simple terms, the researchers examined how much renewable energy the university generated and divided that figure by the number of full-time students in order to produce the rankings.

How Washington and Lee Really Stands Out

Here’s where it gets really interesting. When the researchers ranked schools for producing on-campus electricity, Washington and Lee shot up to 12th place nationally.

Getting into the top 20 higher educational institutions across America for on-campus renewables is a great achievement for a small liberal arts college. Secure Futures is proud to say that we helped Washington & Lee achieve this status by installing solar on the law school rooftop and atop a parking garage.

Drivers at Washington and Lee can park under the solar parking canopy to shade their cars.

The next highest-ranked Virginia school for on-campus power generation is VCU at 58th place. Both universities are showing great leadership with respect to on-campus solar. In addition to installing solar arrays, VCU’s Dr. Damian Pitt and Dr. Zhifang Wang published a paper in May 2018 about the benefits of distributed solar power. One citation in their research, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory study, indicates that rooftops in Virginia could support up to 28,500 megawatts of electricity. Based on current energy use, they surmise that 28,500 MW would supply Virginia with as much as 1/3 of its total need for electricity.

To learn more about whether your roof could contribute to renewable energy, see our blog post “6 Questions to Find Out if your School, Hospital, or Business is Solar-Ready.”

Eastern Mennonite University’s array, pictured above, was Virginia’s largest solar when installed in 2010 at 104 kW. They recently installed another solar array with Secure Futures, and expect to be ranked in Environment America’s report next year!

Rooftop solar is a great benefit to universities. Not only does a solar array right on campus provide a sustainable energy source, but it also presents students and professors with myriad research and workforce training opportunities in the ever-expanding field of renewable energy.

When solar is installed on campus, rather than drawn from an offsite array operated by a utility company out in a cornfield located 50 or 100 miles away, the energy source is highly visible. When solar is mostly offsite, it’s also mostly out of sight — which makes it out of mind too.

The University of Richmond benefits from the visibility of their rooftop solar array, which students see every time they enter the athletic facility.

The good news is that Virginia is blessed with a plethora of colleges and universities that have earned national reputations. Once those schools start to source more clean energy, and especially if some of that energy can come from solar panels on campus, Virginia can lead higher education nationwide in generating clean power.

If you want your school (or alma mater) to join the march toward sustainable energy, add your name to Environment America’s call to make all higher ed campuses 100% renewable. We can do this, Virginia!

Written by: Staff Author