EPA ranks U No. 8 for green power use among universities

This article, originally published in @theu, February 12, 2020, was written by Kate Whitbeck, Communications Manager, Sustainability Office

The Green Power Partnership Top 30 College & University ranking, released Jan. 27, 2020, lists the U as No. 8, with 49% of its energy supplied through geothermal and solar power purchase agreements. The U stands out among those listed for its use of geothermal energy. The Green Power Partnership Program—a voluntary EPA program—encourages green power use to reduce the environmental impacts associated with conventional electricity use.

“In terms of total kilowatt hours per year, the U is now second in the nation for largest long-term contracts among colleges and universities,” said Chris Benson, associate director of Sustainability & Energy in Facilities Management. “This accomplishment for our campus has been a collaborative effort across departments. We are committed to using sustainable energy at the U and this geothermal purchase brings campus that much closer to reaching our carbon neutrality goal before 2050.”

As of Nov. 1, 2019—through  a partnership with Utah-based Cyrq Energy and Rocky Mountain Power—a geothermal plant in Nevada now supplies campus with 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and will do so the next 25 years.

With this contract and the power generated by existing on-campus solar projects, the U’s annual green power purchase rises to 161,671,969 kilowatt hours (kWh). This is the equivalent to powering almost 19,000 homes in Utah.

This is the first time in its history the University of Utah will receive over half of its electricity from clean renewable sources. Total carbon emissions will be reduced by 23%.

“We are very fortunate to have the support and expertise of Cyrq Energy and Rocky Mountain Power,” said Keith Diaz-Moore, interim chief sustainability officer. “Their expertise paired with our Sustainability & Energy Management team in Facilities have allowed us to reach this benchmark. Improving energy efficiency on our campus is an ongoing effort and the University of Utah is dedicated to identifying new opportunities and partnerships to meet its carbon neutrality commitments.”

Carbon neutrality

In April 2019, President Ruth Watkins signed the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments and joined UC3 (University Climate Change Coalition) renewing the U’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 and placing the institution on a path toward resilience and adaptation.

Reaching carbon neutrality is a complex process requiring a coordinated, multipronged approach. Steps include increasing the energy efficiency of existing assets, replacing targeted assets, in addition to ensuring that energy is coming from clean and renewable sources. The university is shifting away from the use of natural gas for heating systems in buildings and moving towards greater use of electricity.

When 100% of our electricity on campus is renewably sourced this creates the potential for zero-emission, carbon-neutral buildings.

Why geothermal energy?

Geothermal power plants harness heat that occurs naturally underground. The heat is pumped out of the ground in the form of hot water or steam and used to drive a turbine that generates electricity.

With all of its classrooms, labs, and healthcare facilities, the University of Utah needs power 24 hours a day. In Utah, most electricity is generated by natural gas and coal-fired power plants. Despite advances in technology, coal-fired power plants remain a significant source of air pollution and emissions. Solar and wind generated electricity are great alternatives but when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, energy must be provided by other sources like coal. Geothermal energy produces a constant “baseload power source” with no gaps in energy production. For this reason, geothermal is an excellent complement to wind and solar.

“This visionary commitment to convert to renewable energy sets a valuable precedent for universities around the country,” said Nick Goodman, CEO of Cyrq Energy, the company providing the geothermal power for the University of Utah. “This groundbreaking project shows a significant dedication to geothermal energy, 100% renewable and green. Cyrq Energy is proud to be providing this renewable energy and helping the university meet its goals.”

To read more about the Soda Lake Geothermal Field and Plant, click here.

FAQS

Media Contacts

Keith Diaz Moore | interim chief sustainability officer and dean, College of Architecture + Planning
Office: 801-585-1766 

Chris Benson | sustainability & energy associate director, Facilities Management
Office: 801-414-1258 

Shawn Wood | communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
Office: 801-585-9244 


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