Sustainability Through Solar Energy: Tesla Joins University of the Pacific in Renewable Energy Efforts

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By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on August 10, 2023

The University of the Pacific is working with Tesla to power its Stockton campus with solar energy, making it one of America’s leaders in renewable energy on college campuses.

University of the Pacific

An international student at University of the Pacific installs solar panels against a bright sky

The University of the Pacific has always been a leader in renewable energy. The Environment America Research and Policy Center ranks the university second in the US for having the highest percentage of campus-owned vehicles that are 100% electric.

It makes sense then, that the Solar Canopy Project is the school’s latest initiative. The project, a partnership between Pacific and Tesla, will result in solar canopies across eight parking lots on Pacific’s Stockton campus. The canopies will collect solar energy, providing more than 30% of the campus’s energy needs. It is the equivalent of removing more than 1,000 cars from the road every year.

“By producing our own energy … we are projecting savings of more than a million dollars a year,” says Pacific President Christopher Callahan. These energy savings, he adds, will help keep tuition costs down.

Solar Energy as Part of a Sustainability Commitment

Initiatives like the Solar Canopy Project are part of Sustaining Pacific, the university’s larger initiative committed to preserving and protecting the environment. As President Callahan says, the school is “trying to lead through action, as opposed to just leading through words.”

Jessica Bilecki, the university’s sustainability director, agrees. “This project demonstrates Pacific’s ongoing commitment to energy conservation and environmentally sound practices for current and future generations,” she said in a recent interview with American School & University magazine.

The goal is not only to provide renewable energy, but also to offer Pacific students another opportunity for hands-on research. Students and faculty will have access to solar data that they can assess as part of research initiatives, helping them gain a real-world understanding of renewable energy and its impact.

The partnership between Tesla and the University of the Pacific is not the first partnership between the university and a sustainability leader. 

The campus’s Pacific Kitchen Co-op is the result of a collaboration between campus housing, PacWell (the on-campus wellness initiative between all three Pacific campuses in Stockton, San Francisco, and Sacramento), Sustaining Pacific, and campus caterer Bon Appétit. 

The fully equipped kitchen in an on-campus apartment is available for student use, and every student can make one free reservation per semester. In the kitchen, students have access to dishware, cooking and baking supplies, appliances, and other culinary necessities. Many students opt to use the space to create a healthy meal for themselves or others, including a campus organization, a group of friends, or even a date.

It is a natural space to use produce grown in the Ted and Chris Robb Garden. The garden was started by Walter Robb, a former health-food store owner and Whole Foods co-president. Organic produce from the garden is available to students, staff, and local community members. The garden itself is a space where students can get hands-on study experience, especially in areas like soil composition and crop rotation, while also learning about broader concepts such as food systems and nutrition.

Get Involved with Sustainability 

Beyond supporting solar energy initiatives, using the Pacific Kitchen Co-op, or spending time in the Robb Garden, Pacific students have several ways to get involved in sustainability efforts, whether through classes or extracurricular options.

The Pacific Green Garden program enables students to learn how food is grown, as well as how to responsibly buy and consume food. In addition to the Ted and Chris Robb Garden, the program is responsible for the Community Garden in Sacramento, as well as the Bon Appétit Native Plant Garden, which features 70 varieties of native Californian plants.

You can apply to become a Robb Garden intern or join the Grow Team as a volunteer. Volunteers are trained to work on the Robb Garden Food Security Project and take on tasks like preparing the garden beds, starting and planting seeds, weeding, and harvesting. This part of the Robb Garden is focused on raising vegetables with the goal of donating the produce to local organizations tackling food insecurity

You can even work in the garden as part of your formal coursework. You can design a project to earn research or internship credits. Or, if you believe the garden could tie into coursework, you can always ask your professor to organize a class trip.

For students who want to incorporate broad sustainability initiatives into their learning, Pacific offers a sustainability minor for undergraduates. The minor is open to all students and helps them understand the social, environmental, and economic impact of various decisions and solutions.

Another way you can support sustainability efforts is to join the Pacific Green Team. Volunteers for the Green Team help decrease trash and increase recycling and composting at on-campus events. Helping at events like move-in day and move-out day ensures recyclable and compostable materials are kept in the right containers – and makes it easy for everyone to pitch in. 

The team also hosts an annual fashion show with clothes and accessories made solely from recycled materials.

Regardless of your major, you can incorporate sustainability into your campus experience through an internship, research, or volunteer work. Each of these experiences will build on your classroom learning, providing insight into how you can incorporate sustainable practices into your personal and professional life.

The future of the planet depends upon leaders who can incorporate sustainability into their daily decision making. And the University of Pacific is ensuring its leaders lead through action, not just words.

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