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UC San Diego to Explore Feasibility of Using 100% Clean Energy on Campus

The campus has engaged Dufoe Consulting Engineers to lead study

Climate change is one of the greatest existential threats of our time. Recognizing that there must be drastic institutional change to mitigate and limit carbon emissions, University of California committed in 2013 to the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025. In 2019, the ten UC chancellors declared that we are in a climate emergency. According to many climate scientists, the campus must take significant actions in this decade.

UC San Diego is the size of a small- to mid-sized city, with complex energy needs for research labs and hospitals. The campus built one of the world’s most advanced microgrids—a flexible, resilient, reliable and secure energy distribution system, generating more than 85% of the electricity used on campus.

The power for the microgrid is provided by the campus’s 30 megawatt natural gas-fired cogeneration plant, a 2.8 megawatt renewable energy fuel cell and 2.4 megawatts of solar arrays. The cogeneration plant is highly cost-effective and efficient, producing 75% fewer emissions than a conventional power plant.

With the goal of reducing carbon emissions in mind, the university will explore the feasibility of retiring this natural-gas-fired central utilities plant and converting it to clean electric power imported from the UC Clean Power Program. The university has committed $250,000 to an electrical feasibility study led by Dufoe Consulting Engineers in collaboration with UC San Diego’s Resource Management and Planning to help evaluate and determine a technically and financially viable long-term path. The study, which is still in progress, will explore necessary electrical, heating and cooling system infrastructure improvements that would be required for conversion to 100% clean electric power.

As a significant amount of the campus’s emissions are from the central utilities plant, this electrical feasibility study marks an early step toward a future where UC San Diego could become a carbon free campus. A conversion would require a plan, significant funding and a commitment from all segments of the UC San Diego community.

UC San Diego has historically set ambitious climate goals that have motivated action and built upon the leadership of our founding pioneers of climate change research. UC San Diego proactively set a goal in its 2008 Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2013, 1990 levels by 2020, and climate neutrality by 2025.

To date, the campus has successfully reduced emissions by one-third since 2008, despite campus growth of 30% in both square footage and student enrollment. While UC San Diego has been successful in implementing many actions that go towards meeting our climate action goals, the university has fallen short on some targets due to the complexity of our energy system and challenges with changing behaviors related to commuting and air travel.

Our campus has served as a living laboratory, collaborating with leading scientists on real world solutions. The university has taken effective action to increase energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint, including:

  • UC San Diego is home to one of the largest, most diversified energy storage portfolios of any college campus. This wide range of research and commercialization of energy storage is pillared by nano engineering chemistry, 8 million gallons of thermal energy storage and a commercial 2.5 MW/5 MWH battery.
  • UC San Diego has one of the largest and most diverse campus electric vehicle charging infrastructures in the country, which has allowed us to convert the campus fleet to one of the greenest fleets in the country. Over 60% of the campus vehicle fleet is hybrid, all-electric, compressed natural gas or renewable biodiesel, and the university is working towards increasing this to 90% or better.
  • The campus Green Building Program ensures all new buildings meet a LEED-Silver rating at minimum with most earning a Gold rating or better.
  • The university continually explores the potential for reducing required ongoing, peak and emergency levels of electricity through monitoring, conservation measures and flexibility in thermostat settings and nocturnal energy use.

The university has also implemented behavior and institutional changes that have resulted in energy savings and emissions prevention. These include:

  • Certifying more than 100 labs in the Green Labs certification program and improving fume hood management.
  • Raising awareness through residence hall and apartment energy competitions, the Cool Campus Challenge and the Green Office certification program.
  • Educating and engaging students in the Sustainability Ambassadors Program.
  • Encouraging the use of electric vehicles, and adding 92 new electric vehicle charging stations to campus powered by renewable energy, bringing the total available to 351.
  • Supporting alternative transportation. Approximately 60% of the university’s faculty, staff and students use alternative transportation for their daily commute, and that is expected to increase with the opportunities presented by two new campus trolley stations for the UC San Diego Blue Line, which is scheduled to open November 21st of this year.

Through these efforts and more, UC San Diego has successfully reduced emissions and has reduced annual energy costs by $14.5 million.

In parallel to the electrification feasibility study, UC San Diego will continue to explore the potential of supplying all or most of the campus’s electricity needs with renewable energy, such as renewable hydrogen, that could be used in distributed fuel cells across campus or as an alternative fuel source for our central utilities plant.