July 08, 2022 | Matt Kucinski

A group of men in business attire standing outside near solar panels.
Calvin University administrative, faculty, and student leaders on a site visit with Sun FundED leaders.

Calvin University is making history in Michigan by becoming the first university in the state to pursue Solar-as-a-Service as an approach to accelerating the energy transition. Calvin and Sun FundED, a Carmel-IN based company, have executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to begin the evaluation phase of the partnership.

Sun FundED exclusively serves education institutions and has been working with many public schools in Michigan and Indiana as well as universities in Indiana and Florida in recent years. Solar-as-a-Service is designed to make solar energy the easiest and most valuable way for educational institutions to dramatically cut operating expenses, mitigate risks, all while supporting sustainability and educating students about green power.

Deepening a core commitment

The MOU was signed by Tim Fennema, Calvin University’s vice president of administration and finance, during Dr. Wiebe Boer’s first week as president of the university. The timing is significant as it signals a deepening of one of the university’s core commitments originally prioritized by outgoing president Michael Le Roy.

“By signing the President’s Climate Commitment in 2017, Le Roy made clear Calvin’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2057,” said Fennema. “The action we took this past week propels that vision forward and communicates to our community that we are dedicated to ensuring that Calvin’s long-held value of caring for creation will only grow stronger in the years ahead.”

Sun FundED’s Solar-as-a-Service model provides all the technical expertise to help the university qualify for the company to invest, build, and operate the solar array and Calvin will not have to lay out any capital for the project. This is a pay-as-you-go model where the university will lower and lock in a rate long term avoiding cost-plus-inflation they have historically experienced. Both organizations will focus on positively impacting the environment and classroom in a meaningful and tangible way.

Leading the way

President Boer is well positioned to help guide Calvin in this pursuit having served since 2017 as chief executive officer of Shell All-On, a renewable energy investment company in Lagos, Nigeria. He’s surrounded at Calvin by faculty and staff spanning a number of disciplines who are sustainability thought leaders, and administrators, like Fennema, who are committed to not only financial sustainability, but environmental sustainability as well.

“Calvin University’s commitment to sustainability spans decades. We are a leader in this space among Christian higher ed institutions, and we will continue to provide leadership through our teaching, research, and scholarship,” said Matt Heun, a professor of engineering at Calvin and thought leader in the environmental sustainability space. “This exploratory MOU demonstrates our commitment to lead by example.”

Benefits beyond solar savings

In addition to the future energy savings, Sun FundED also offers an educational platform called SAMI to help students and educators adopt all things sustainable and renewable-focused, such as projects, activities, STEM, Trades, scholarships, and more.

Kelly Hipskind, a co-founder of Sun FundED, was brought into meetings with Calvin early in the process so as to better understand how implementing solar can support the university’s ambitious sustainability goals, academic experience, and long-term strategic plan.

“I have met with thousands of school leaders across the country over my career serving schools, and I must say, Calvin University from the very first meeting had one of the clearest visions for renewables and energy efficiency of any school I have ever met with,” said Hipskind. “We aligned in every aspect of our respective organizations immediately, and Sun FundED is thrilled to help Calvin qualify for our investment and services as we build on this partnership in the coming months and help them achieve their sustainability goals.”

Learn more about Calvin’s commitment to sustainability

About Calvin University

Founded in 1876, Calvin University is a top-ranked, liberal arts institution that equips its nearly 3,300 students from 47 U.S. states, 49 countries, and four Canadian provinces to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world. Calvin offers 100+ majors and programs, including a growing portfolio of graduate-level offerings. Calvin students engage in intensive internships, community-based service learning, and significant research that results in publishing and presenting alongside world-class faculty. The university’s 400-acre campus is located in the vibrant city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Discover more at calvin.edu.

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