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ASU and Phoenix are working together to meet solar sustainability goals

The strong relationship has led to increased solar sustainability in both Phoenix and ASU campuses


"ASU and Phoenix collaborate to reach their sustainability goals." Illustration published on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019.

ASU and the city of Phoenix have been working together to build their sustainable practices, and both credit their strong relationship as a reason they were able to meet many of their goals. 

"I would say from a city-university relationship, we're one of the strongest in the U.S. on that partnership," said Mark Hartman, Phoenix's chief sustainability officer. "We work a lot with ASU on many things to do with heat and water and trees."

Gerald DaRosa, the Energy Innovations program director on ASU's Tempe campus, agreed that ASU's strong relationship with Phoenix has been a plus.

“We have a very collaborative relationship with the city of Phoenix, in particular with the city of Phoenix sustainability office," DaRosa said. "I've worked closely with the director of sustainability (Hartman) over there, because we really share information, we share strategies."

ASU set ambitious environmental sustainability goals in 2011, and although the University’s efforts have fallen short, their carbon neutrality goals relating to renewable energy are on track to be met. 

Read more: ASU abandoned most of its operational sustainability goals

DaRosa said this is largely because of focused collaboration between the city of Phoenix and ASU’s sustainable energy branches.

A good example of this is the Red Rock Solar Project, a collaborative venture between ASU and Arizona Public Service (APS), an electric utility regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission

The project requires that ASU purchases 65 million kilowatt hours (kWh) from APS every year for 20 years, but Red Rock provides ASU with 62.1% of its annual kWh usage on campus, a trade ASU is willing to make to meet its sustainable energy goals. 

The University comfortably produces enough solar energy to power over 8,000 Arizona homes per year. 

Stuart Bowden, a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, said that 50% of ASU's daily energy output comes from solar power.

Although the goal is to eventually reach 100% renewable energy, there are some roadblocks. 

The biggest obstacle the University faces for reaching 100% sustainability is not money but usable space. Solar panels are typically placed on roofs, often on parking garages, but according to DaRosa, ASU is running out of viable roofs to put them on. 

"You don’t want to stick them on a roof that’s maybe 20 years old and is maybe due for a repair pretty soon," DaRosa said. 

However, ASU is not out of ideas to alleviate this obstacle: DaRosa said that ASU is having discussions with Salt River Projects (SRP) and APS for off-site opportunities. 

Phoenix and ASU are both interested in another project similar to the Red Rock project that provides both ASU and Phoenix with large supplies of renewable energy.

Hartman said that ASU has also helped Phoenix meet its own lofty sustainability goals.

In 2006, the Corporation Commission set a benchmark that Phoenix obtain at least 15% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2025. 

Hartman said that the Phoenix metropolitan area has already exceeded that goal, and depending on how some projects come together, they may reach double their goal. Hartman said that ASU's research and resources helped play a large role in meeting those goals.

With Phoenix’s benchmark already met, and the city looking to further expand its solar portfolio, they are not shy to collaborate with ASU both on research and operations moving forward.

“We all really want the same thing, we want a more sustainable Arizona, we want a more sustainable planet,” DaRosa says.

Reach the reporter at or follow @bharris823 on Twitter.

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