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Carbon Neutrality and Clean Energy

UC Commitment

In November 2013, President Janet Napolitano announced the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, committing the University of California to emitting net zero greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025 — something no other major university system has done.


  • Reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels
  • Achieve carbon neutrality for scopes 1 and 2 sources by 2025
  • Achieve carbon neutrality for scope 3 sources by 2050
  • Reduce each location's energy use intensity by an average of at least 2% annually
  • By 2025, each campus and health location will:
    • Obtain 100% clean electricity
    • Have at least 40% of natural gas combusted on-site will be biogas



  • Ten used Nissan Leafs ¾ used in a vehicle-to-grid research project with the U.S. Air Force ¾ were transferred to UC San Diego’s Center for Energy Research for research and demonstration purposes, including examining low environmental impact alternatives to vanpooling.


  • Campus energy consumption decreased by 4% in 2020. The UC Clean Power Program is now procuring 100% clean electricity and signed two additional contracts for long-term biomethane supplies, moving the university closer to its goal of supplying 40% of UC’s natural gas consumption with carbon neutral biomethane to reduce its Scope 1 emissions.
  • UC San Diego continues to leverage public funding to expand the campus electric vehicle charging infrastructure. At the end of 2020, our campus has 250 ports that serve commuters, general public and travelers. Over the past four years, UC San Diego has become San Diego County’s largest multipurpose hub of EV charging plazas by delivering 2.5 GWH to more than 5,500 unique drivers.
  • The campus microgrid responded to Governor Newsom’s state of emergency proclamation during the Labor Day extreme heat wave by voluntarily activating aggressive demand response strategies with electric chillers, building thermostats and backup generators. The efforts averaged 16 MW of power and exported 30 MWH during nine of the SDG&E grid‘s most vulnerable hours to help avoid regional public safety power shutoffs.

Legacy of Climate Leadership

  • 1961: Charles Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography developed the Keeling Curve.
  • 2007: UC San Diego signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Second Nature's Carbon Commitment
  • 2008: UC San Diego developed its first Climate Action Plan.
  • 2013: University of California President launched the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative.
  • 2019: UC San Diego updated its Climate Action Plan.

Campus Actions

UC San Diego continues to be a leader in climate change research and education, while also aggressively pursuing actions to reduce the campus’ environmental footprint, including:

Energy Efficiency

  • Implementing a comprehensive energy efficiency program that has completed over $100 million in projects and reduced campus greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2 (MTCOe2)
  • Upgrading to energy-efficient ventilation systems in high-energy-use buildings
  • Switching to LED lighting
  • Enhancing building-performance monitoring and tuning
  • Retrofitting heating and ventilation systems, controls and ductwork
  • Replacing laboratory freezers with more energy-efficient models


UC San Diego has built one of the world’s the most advanced microgrids, which is key to creating a carbon neutral campus. The microgrid provides a flexible, resilient, reliable, secure energy distribution system that generates more than 85% of the electricity used on campus annually. Power is provided from several sources the campus’ 30-megawatt cogeneration plant, 2.8-megawatt renewable energy fuel cell, and 2.4 megawatts of solar arrays.


The campus operates a 30-megawatt natural-gas-fired combined heat and power system that provides 72% of the campus’s annual electricity needs. The Environmental Protection Agency recognized the plant with an Energy Star CHP Award for its high efficiency and low emissions. 

Cogeneration uses one fuel source (natural gas) to produce two forms of energy (electricity and heat). State-of–the-art gas turbines equipped with pollution controls are 45-50% more efficient than conventional natural gas power plants and produce 75% fewer emissions.

In addition to saving approximately $18 million in annual purchased utilities costs, cogeneration reduces:

  • Energy loss due to transmission and distribution of electricity over the statewide electrical grid
  • Reliance on out-of-state coal-burning power generation
  • Regional congestion on SDG&E’s grid system

Energy Management System

A computerized Energy Management System connects all major campus buildings and centrally monitors and controls mechanical systems — heating, ventilating and air conditioning —  based on occupancy. The programmed system reduces energy use during evenings, weekends and holidays. Precise programming reduces peak-time energy demand, maximizes conservation and allows for efficient room temperature management and long-term trending and comparative analysis.


The campus’ 2.4-megawatt solar network includes an array of rooftop, carport and ground mounted systems, including several integrated with advanced energy systems. The campus continually seeks opportunities to expand our solar infrastructure.

Fuel Cell

Our 2.8-megawatt fuel cell is the largest on any college campus. It provides about 7% of UC San Diego’s total energy needs, or the equivalent of powering 2,800 homes. The fuel cell uses waste methane gas from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant to generate combustion-free electricity for the campus. In addition to electricity, a 300-ton absorption chiller captures waste heat from the fuel cell to produce chilled water that is stored in the nearby Thermal Energy Storage system.

Energy Storage

Energy storage is the key to balancing energy supply and demand and UC San Diego has one of the largest, most diversified energy storage portfolios of any college campus. The portfolio contains a variety of energy storage types, including advanced battery storage, thermal energy storage, an ultra-capacitor, and two “2nd Life EV Battery Storage” demonstration systems. Examples:

  • 5 megawatt/5 megawatt-hour Li-ion storage system and a 250 kilowatt/500 kilowatt-hour Li-ion storage system that help reduce campus demand charges
  • 10 kilowatt/10 kilowatt-hour Lithium Polymer Battery
  • Demonstration 108 kilowatt/180 kilowatt-hour 2nd Life battery system
  • 28 kilowatt ultra-capacitor bank that helps smooth the output of the integrated 60 kilowatt solar array
  • More than 7 million gallons of thermal energy storage capacity that shift the campus’ peak demand load

Most recently, in partnership with UC San Diego’s Center for Energy Research and ESS, a demonstration 40 kilowatt/400 kilowatt “all-iron flow battery” was installed on one of three east campus Energy Research Park test sites.

Transportation, Fleet, Commuting

Student Engagement

The UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative Fellowship Program funds student-generated projects that support the UC system’s goal to produce zero-net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. UC San Diego’s 2019-20 fellows

The Sustainability Ambassadors Program aims to educate and engage students through peer education and programming to raise awareness of UC San Diego’s efforts to reach carbon neutrality and encourage students to implement sustainable living methods.

Faculty Engagement and Research

UC San Diego is a leader in academic and research programs focused on providing climate change education and solutions to meet the growing challenge of supplying clean energy for the future. Researchers from the Center for Energy Research are performing groundbreaking research, such as:

Faculty are also engaged in community projects like inter-disciplinary Deep De-Carbonization Initiative, which includes both technical and social science experts from across the campus.

Future Plans

As the campus moves towards meeting its carbon emission reduction goals, many programs are already underway or scheduled to begin soon. Some of them include:

  • Continued energy use reductions through energy efficiency retrofit projects
  • Increased grid renewable energy purchases through the UC Wholesale Power Program and future purchases of bio-methane gas to offset natural gas use
  • Construction of new highly energy efficient buildings
  • Extension of the Mid-Coast Trolley system to campus, with service planned to start in 2021
  • Installation of additional electric vehicle charging systems for fleet and public use
  • Continuation of attractively priced electric vehicle dealer leasing and purchasing programs for UC San Diego faculty, staff, students and alumni
  • Procurement of new alternative fuel shuttles and other vehicles to replace aging fleet equipment

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