By Tom Chadwick, GI Energy CEO
Universities across the world have been at the forefront of sustainability projects for over ten years. Their desire to create cost savings from energy efficiency, combined with their need to show thought leadership, is augmented by the willingness of their management to take a longer-term view of investments. This created the perfect environment for the early adoption of energy saving solutions. The momentum in higher education has not been limited to the seventy -six institutions that make up the likes of the International Sustainable Campus Network; almost every major academic establishment now has a Sustainability Policy offering construction and investment guidelines, and a set of environmental goals encompassing greenhouse gas emission levels, recycling and carbon footprint reduction. The academic universe has been the incubator for many innovative technologies, including Combined Heat and Power, Heat Pumps, Biomass, and Solar PV.
Stanford recently announced an innovative new approach to meeting its energy needs. The system incorporates solar power, which will provide 50% of the campus’ electricity. This, combined with heat recovery, will allow the university to exceed the aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals set by the State of California (by the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act). The solution will eliminate 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, the same effect would be produced by removing 32,000 cars from the roads.
Our company has been fortunate to be involved in a range of these academic sector projects. Our engineers have delivered some incredibly imaginative and cost-effective outcomes. In the UK we have created five ground source heat pump solutions for Oxford University, including in the Said Business School and for the groundbreaking Mathematical Institute Building. In New York we are behind the new Cornell Technion Net Zero building on Roosevelt Island. In Illinois we have developed new buildings for the University of Chicago, and in Los Angeles we run CoGen plants for Cypress College. Our engineering partners, MEP, have designed the largest geothermal system in the United States at Ball State University. Next onto the scene adopting large-scale systems, for the same reasons as universities, were state funded establishments such as hospitals, prisons and schools.
We are now seeing the market evolve from the early adopters to the early majority. This is an exciting part of any market development: where the business models and technology gain traction with mainstream consumers, new entrants join the race to meet demand. A material impact can now be made on energy and carbon reduction. We have been tracking the changes, and attribute the shift in sentiment to a number of factors:
Commercial Sustainable Campus system: Epic Systems
Epic Systems, a privately held healthcare software developer has deployed a formidable solution that their Madison, WI campus. The salient features are the use of heat pumps that take heat emitted both from the data center and from a bore field, then distribute it across a 350 acre site with 12 major buildings. The Epic campus can house up to 15,000 employees. The effective use of a solar PV field and wind turbines provide the electricity to drive the heat pumps, and a sophisticated control system finely balances the heating and cooling needs of the site. The overall system can produce over 80MW, and according to Management it has a payback period of less than 2 years. See further details here
As Energy Developers, we can now create campus solutions that combine a wide range of renewable and sustainable technologies (fuel cells, battery storage, heat pumps, solar PV and wind) to create an asset that delivers energy at prices comparable to, and often lower than, those delivered by the utility companies. While the up-front investment is still significant, the ability to offset future energy savings against funding costs means the projects can be third-party financed and still deliver the key requirements – lower cost energy, and visible future costs. We are seeing major growth in new projects across the US from high-cost downtown sites in San Francisco, to regenerating industrial sites in Detroit. The common thread is that the campus development achieves affordable sustainable energy prices.
Tom has been leading GI Energy for over 10 years. He is a passionate advocate of sustainable energy generation. If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, or GIE’s work please get in touch via email – firstname.lastname@example.org