Institutions of higher education are large energy users. Campus buildings house and feed countless students, and fleets of university buses and shuttles move students and faculty members around campus. To combat this high energy use (and high energy bills), many colleges and universities have begun to move toward energy-efficient power, according to the report Renewable Energy 100: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus from the Environment America Research and Policy Center.
According to Environment America Center, higher education centers serve 20 million students and represent 6% of the national population. Higher education spends about $14 billion on energy costs each year, and the education sector as a whole, including K-12 schools, consumed 10% of all energy used by the commercial sector in 2012.
Colleges and universities have chosen different ways to adopt clean energy. The University of Delaware worked with Gamesa Technology Corp. out of Bensalem Township, Penn. to install a 2-megawatt, utility-scale wind turbine. It provides 100% of the electrical needs for the six buildings on the university’s Lewes, Del., campus. The excess electricity is supplied to the electric grid for the community to use, powering around 100 homes. Built in 2010, the turbine stands at 256 feet tall with 144-foot long blades. From 2010 to 2017, the turbine offset 3,500 metric tons of carbon pollution, equivalent to removing 750 vehicles off the road.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College has undertaken several projects through the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge to reduce its energy use. The college has committed to reducing energy consumption 20% by 2020 throughout its 1.3 million square feet of campus buildings. For example, the renovation of Carr Hall includes high-efficiency HVAC systems and cost-effective lighting solutions, making the building 23% more efficient. At the time of the Renewable Energy 100 report's publication, 17 buildings had reduced energy intensity by more than 10%, and efficiency improvements across the campus had reduced intensity for all the buildings by 14%. Today, the college has reduced is overall energy consumption to by 18% just shy of its 2020 goal.
Although campuses are high-energy users, they are also prime locations for clean-energy projects. There are often a large number of rooftops, parking lots, open fields and other green spaces that can host clean-energy technologies. Many college campuses are self-contained, and this gives them freedom to use clean-energy systems independently from the central power grid.
Colleges are also social and community-driven locations. This creates unique opportunities to reduce energy through social changes and ideas. Students and faculty members can connect with the community and work together to reduce energy consumption.