Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

3 Reasons Universities Are Investing Renewable Energy

Business

Colleges and universities have always been focal points of change. The mixture of academic research, student activism and institutional clout has allowed campus communities to promote widespread technical and social transformations. During the last few years, a few of these institutions have begun to lead in an entirely new area—renewable energy. Just last September, the University of California system announced an 80 megawatt (MW) procurement contract for off-site solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity, enough to power almost 13,000 homes.

Rutgers University’s Livingston Campus transformed a 32-acre, 3,500-spot parking lot into one of the largest solar canopy arrays in the nation. The has a capacity of 8 megawatts, enough to power 1,000 homes. Photo credit: Rutgers University

While this is the largest power purchase agreement (PPA) on record for a university, it was not the first. Back in 2008, the University of Oklahoma signed an agreement with Oklahoma Gas & Electric to purchase 100 percent renewable electricity, spurring the development of a 44-turbine wind farm. Then, in 2012, Ohio State University signed a 20-year PPA for 50 MW of wind power. This year, George Washington University and American University teamed up, along with George Washington University Hospital, to secure 52 MW of solar PV from Duke Energy Renewables. Meanwhile, many campuses have installed significant on-site resources. Three universities in particular—Arizona State, Rutgers and Mount Saint Mary’s—have installed more than 57 MW of solar PV combined; enough to power more than 9,000 U.S. homes.

Three Reasons Why Universities are Buying Renewables:

1. Renewables are a Good Deal

Recent transactions highlight just how competitive renewable power can be. Ohio State University estimated its wind transaction would save the university $1 million dollars in the first year alone. Similarly, American University says that its renewable energy contract “provides fixed pricing for solar energy at a lower total price than current power solutions.” When you start to look at the recent, all-time-low wind and solar prices per kilowatt-hour (kWh), it’s easy to see how these deals can be cost-effective.

In 2013, new wind projects in the U.S. had an average wholesale price of just $0.025/kWh. Meanwhile, recent wholesale solar PPAs have reached $0.05/kWh or lower. Add in the fact that these deals allow buyers to lock in low prices for 20 years or more, and the savings really start to add up. Ultimately, you don’t need an Ivy League endowment to buy a lot of renewable energy—many of the leaders are public universities that have discovered it’s a sound economic investment.

2. Top-Down Leadership

Since 2007, the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment has encouraged almost 700 institutions of higher education to commit to achieving carbon neutrality within a defined timeframe. These commitments to reach carbon neutrality, sometimes by 2025 or earlier, are frequently cited as key components of a university’s decision to purchase renewable energy. In fact, a few small colleges have already achieved carbon neutrality, most recently Colby College in Maine.

3. Bottom-Up Demand

Colleges and universities are also responding to a growing demand from their key stakeholders. Students and faculty around the country are already campaigning for increasing university sustainability programs, and these topics are also on the minds of prospective students. In a 2014 Princeton Review survey of student applicants, “61 percent said having information about a college’s commitment to the environment would impact their decision to apply to or attend a school.” Information about campuses’ sustainability track records, provided through programs such as AASHE's STARS initiative, have brought additional transparency to these efforts and allowed for holistic sustainability rankings. Moreover, for both faculty and students, these renewables projects open up research opportunities. This was particularly true for Ohio State University, which employed more than 400 energy researchers in 2013.

Creating Social Change

At Rocky Mountain Institute, we’ve shown time and again that renewable energy is held back not by technical limitations but rather by societal inertia, outdated regulations, and institutional barriers. Universities, by design, are hubs for experimentation and pushing beyond the norms of the day. As Dr. George Basile from Arizona State University observed, “When society doesn’t know how to do something, universities are where you go to solve those problems.” In addition, universities’ relatively stable growth, long-term ownership of facilities, and intellectual atmosphere provide an ideal testing ground for new approaches.

For these reasons,Rocky Mountain Institute is engaging with universities through a number of programs, including:

However, more importantly, universities matter because they are educating the future leaders and members of our society. Integrating energy efficiency and renewables into a school’s culture exposes each wave of students to more efficient and sustainable processes, systems and behaviors. That’s social change. That’s legacy. That’s scale.

At the end of the day, whether you’re a student, professor or alumnus, it looks as though universities still have plenty left to teach us.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Solar Energy Could Power America 100 Times Over

Interactive Map: Find Out How Your State Ranks on Renewable Energy

10 Reasons Renewable Energy Can Save the Planet

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Anderson Community Group. Left to right, Caroline Laur, Anita Foust, the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, and Bill Compton, came together to fight for environmental justice in their community. Anderson Community Group

By Isabella Garcia

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.

Read More Show Less
Berber woman cooks traditional flatbread using an earthen oven in her mud-walled village home located near the historic village of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, Africa on Jan. 4, 2016. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. /NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt

The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.

Read More Show Less
Danny Choo / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Olivia Sullivan

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Read More Show Less
A mostly empty 110 freeway toward downtown Los Angeles, California on April 28, 2020. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.

Read More Show Less
Centrosaurus apertus was a plant-eating, single-horned dinosaur that lived 76 to 77 million years ago. Sergey Krasovskiy / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Scientists have discovered and diagnosed the first instance of malignant cancer in a dinosaur, and they did so by using modern medical techniques. They published their results earlier this week in The Lancet Oncology.

Read More Show Less
Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. NPS

By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The ubiquity of guns and bullets poses environmental risks. Contaminants in bullets include lead, copper, zinc, antimony and mercury. gorancakmazovic / iStock / Getty Images Plus

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less