To be inaugurated in 2025

UU buys solar power plant in Bunnik

Zonne-weide, Pixabay

UU aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030, as well as less dependent on energy providers. That's why it is looking to generate its own energy as much as possible — and do it in the most sustainable way possible too. There is not enough space for a solar farm in the Utrecht Science Park, so the university looked for a spot in the vicinity.

Fifteen hectares of land in Bunnik, south of the A12 motorway, have been earmarked for a solar park. About 6.5 hectares will be used by the university, while the remaining hectares will be used by the Bunnik Energy Cooperative. UU hopes to close the deal this month, although it is proceeding carefully.  

The university will pay to use the area for 30 years and expects to generate about 8 million kilowatt hours each year, which correspondents to approximately 17 percent of its energy needs. The solar park still needs to be built. Early next year, UU expects to be installing cables between the solar park and the combined heat and power plant on the grounds of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The solar power plant will be ready by 2025.

Thanks to the solar park, UU will manage to reduce its carbon footprint by about 2,200 tonnes each year. In addition, the university will save on gas between April and September because it will not be necessary to use its combined heat and power plant as often to generate electricity. But that depends on the number of hours of sunlight, of course. In 2021, the use of natural gas was responsible for 44 percent of UU's CO2 emissions.

In many buildings, the heating system is still powered by gas, which means that the rule to lower the thermostat to 19 degrees Celsius will remain. "With the purchase of this solar power plant, we hope to be one step closer to our ambitions, but that does not mean that the other measures will be lifted. The most sustainable energy is the energy that you do not use," says a spokesperson for UU.

At the Science Park, UU has already been generating a lot more energy from solar panels. Since 2016, several of the university's buildings have been adding solar panels to their roofs. According to the latest Sustainability Report, there were 7,388 solar panels on the roofs of UU's Science Park buildings by the end of 2022. That's only 3 percent of the university's energy needs. Since then, the number of solar panels has risen to 7,500.

The news of a solar power plant has already been circulating at the university for a few weeks because the solar park was mentioned by accident in financial documents. It's also been mentioned in the meeting between UU's Vice-President, Margot van de Starre, and the students who occupied the Minnaert building. She told them that UU was to deploy a field full of solar panels, all it needed to do was lay a cable between the field and the Utrecht Science Park. However, the deal was not closed and UU had agreed by contract not to disclose specific information during the negotiations.