University of Utah among green power competitors in EPA challenge

When it comes to sustainability, colleges and universities have some of the most aggressive and comprehensive plans in the nation, and WAPA is proud to count some of those institutions as customers. One of our customers, the University of Utah, You are leaving WAPA.gov. is putting its climate action plan to the test in the 2016-17 College and University Green Power Challenge, which encourages higher education institutions to increase their use of green power.gpchallenge

Throughout the academic year, the Green Power Partnership tracks the collegiate athletic conferences with the highest combined green power usage in the nation. The challenge, an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency, is open to any conference in the United States. Currently, 89 schools from 34 athletic conferences are participating in the 2016-17 Challenge. The PAC 12 conference, of which UU is a part, has used 79,173,575 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power so far this year.

Drawing up plan
The University of Utah has been pursuing carbon neutrality since 2007 when the university president signed on to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment You are leaving WAPA.gov.. In 2010, the school set its official goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 as part of its first Climate Action Plan.

The comprehensive plan created the university Sustainability Office and sustainability committees to coordinate education, research and initiatives to reduce the university’s carbon emissions. The carbon commitment works hand in hand with a resilience commitment to strengthen UU’s ability to survive disruption and adapt to change. These commitments combine to form the whole of the plan’s climate commitment.

To meet its stated goals, the plan sets forth structures for guidance and implementation, and decision-making criteria for carbon reduction measures prioritized in an inverted pyramid. Avoiding and reducing emissions top the pyramid as the actions likely to have the greatest effect. Efficiency, resource replacement and offsetting fossil fuel use follow in that order. Every five years, UU will review, revise and resubmit the plan, a process that is currently underway.

Getting started
The first step on the road to carbon neutrality was gathering data on all wholly owned buildings and land area of the university and its subsidiaries. Leased facilities were not included in the accounting.

The difficulty for UU was that metering was only available at campus level when the initiative launched. “We have been working to get building-level information to better understand where we should focus our efforts,” said Myron Willson, the university’s deputy chief sustainability officer.

Data collection has led to an increased emphasis on commissioning and re-commissioning buildings and on major building system retrofits. The Sustainability Office is now looking into district-level energy planning on its health sciences campus.

In 2008, the students unanimously voted for a $2.50-per-semester student fee, the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, to support sustainability projects. Since then, SCIF has received proposals ranging in focus from food systems to solar energy, and has allocated more than $400,000 in grants to more than 100 projects. There is now support for turning the fund into a revolving loan program that could help to provide the initial capital needed for energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Power supply plays its part
Although the plan prioritizes avoiding emissions and improving campus efficiency over using green power and offsetting fossil fuel use with renewable energy purchases, those strategies still have a place. UU installed a combined heat and power plant in 2008 that provides 6 megawatts (MW) of power. There is also about 1.5 MW of distributed solar directly on campus, and another 2 MW under contract for three projects on the university’s Research Park.

The university’s latest project brings together the entire community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, neighbors and friends for a community solar energy installation program. U Community Solar offers members the opportunity to purchase rooftop solar panels and installation for their homes at 20 to 25 percent below market rate. In return for the significant discount, participants can voluntarily donate their renewable energy credits back to the university. “So far, more than 85 percent of participants have agreed to do so, generating almost 1.8 MW in the first round,” said Willson. “The second round is nearing 1 MW of power. We register those RECs through WREGIS You are leaving WAPA.gov. [Western Renewable Energy Generation Information System].”

So far, so good
In addition to leading its conference in the Green Power Challenge, UU is making progress on its carbon neutrality goals. Its emissions have remained fairly constant since the baseline survey in 2007, but the university has experienced tremendous growth in that time frame. “Our per capita and per-square-foot energy use is down in our latest report, too,” Willson added.

The university continues to move forward with aggressive building standards for new construction and for remodels that are 40 percent better than code and a solar-ready roof initiative. Demand-side incentives from Rocky Mountain Power You are leaving WAPA.gov., the university’s utility, help support efficiency and clean energy projects. “We are able to roll the funds over into next project,” explained Willson. “We have also taken advantage of several Blue-Sky grants to install solar PV.”

To tackle emissions from transportation, the U Drive Electric program offers U community members and Salt Lake City residents the opportunity to purchase or lease electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles at discounted prices. The collaboration between UU, Salt Lake City and Utah Clean Energy You are leaving WAPA.gov. has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in hybrid cars this year.

The University of Utah’s U Drive Electric program has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in-hybrid cars since the beginning of the school year. With almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles represent an important tool for improving air quality in Salt Lake City.
The University of Utah’s U Drive Electric program has facilitated the sale of 92 electric and plug-in-hybrid cars since the beginning of the school year. With almost 50 percent of Utah’s urban air pollution coming from tailpipe emissions, electric vehicles represent an important tool for improving air quality in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Sustainable Utah, Green News at the University of Utah)

Willson acknowledged that the 5-year review will bring evolution to the plan. “It is hard to know in the first years what combination of steps will bring the best result,” he said. “But we are currently working with consultants to evaluate several purchase power agreement opportunities for both on- and off-campus generation. This has helped us look at reducing peak demand, opportunities for storage, such as thermal and battery, and how to plan for future campus growth.”

WAPA wishes the University of Utah the best of luck in this year’s Green Power Challenge. But as with most energy competitions, it is not whether you win or lose; it’s how many opportunities for energy savings and load management you discover. In that, UU is already a winner.

If your college or university is interested in joining the 2016-17 Green Power Challenge, check out the steps to join Green Power Partnership for more information. To be listed, a conference must have at least two Green Power Partners and an aggregate green power purchase of at least 10 million kWh across the conference. Partner data deadlines are Jan. 4, 2017, and April 5, 2017.

Around the web: DOE Better Buildings Initiative

Improving the efficiency of America’s building stock would save billions of dollars in energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of jobs. To capture – and replicate – those positive gains in energy efficiency, the Department of Energy launched the Better Buildings Initiative, a partnership of public and private sector organizations across the country.
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The initiative focuses its strategies within four interrelated key areas to drive change and investment in energy efficiency:

  • Developing innovative, replicable solutions with market leaders
  • Making energy efficiency investment easier
  • Developing a skilled clean energy workforce
  • Leading by example in federal government

Many ways to build better
Building owners in the commercial, educational, industrial, residential and state and local government sectors can get involved in the initiative through a variety of pathways:

  • The cornerstone Better Building Challenge calls on the leadership of companies, universities, school districts, housing developers and state and local government to commit to reducing the energy used across their building portfolios by 20 percent or more over 10 years.
  • The Better Building Accelerators demonstrate specific innovative policies and approaches, which upon successful demonstration, will accelerate investment in energy efficiency.
  • The Better Buildings Summit, May 9-11 in Washington, D.C., brings partners together to showcase solutions and exchange best practices.
  • The Better Buildings Alliance connects members in different market sectors with DOE’s research and technical experts to develop and deploy innovative, cost-effective, energy-saving solutions that lead to better technologies, more profitable businesses and healthier, more comfortable facilities.
  • The Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines provide a national platform for developing high-quality, nationally recognized training and certification programs that are consistent and scalable across the energy-efficiency industry.
  • The annual Better Buildings Case Competition engages the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers to develop creative solutions to real-world energy efficiency barriers for businesses and other organizations across the marketplace. After taking a year off for planning, the competition is back in 2016.

Partner-specific resources
Industrial partners can participate in the Better Plants program that has saved about 457 trillion British thermal units and $2.4 billion cumulatively in energy costs to date. Facilities may also pursue Superior Energy Performance Certification, by implementing an energy management system that meets the ISO 50001 Standard You are leaving Western's site. and demonstrates improved energy performance.

Resources dedicated to residential partners include the online Solution Center, Home Energy Score and  the Zero-energy Ready Home designation to promote high-performance housing. Utility residential program managers will find many tools in these pages to help homeowners control their energy use.

The Better Building Residential Network is available to state and local government partners, as well as residential partners. The membership, which includes utilities, analyzes energy-efficiency programs and shares best practices with the goal of increasing the number of energy-efficient homes. Join their weekly peer exchange calls to discuss such topics as smart homes, the power of messaging, emerging trends in residential efficiency and residential property-assessed clean energy financing.

Get involved
Buildings use close to half of the energy consumed in the United States, so a more efficient building stock can help utilities meet environmental regulations and load management goals. Learn more about  becoming a Better Building Partner or sign up for interactive webinars that explore cost-effective ways to integrate energy savings into their daily building operations. Keep up to date on the latest partner activities and solutions by signing up for Better Buildings communications.