Renewable Energy: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus

Renewable Energy: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus

In 2017, the Environment California Research and Policy Center along with Frontier Group published the report, Renewable Energy 100 – The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus. The Report emphasizes the need for college campuses to be leaders in combatting the impact of global climate change. Colleges across the country are setting goals to become 100% reliant on clean, renewable sources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States could use solar and wind power to produce 100 times more electricity than the United States consumes in a year. Colleges are also opportunities for reducing carbon emissions since higher education serves six percent of the United States. Further, college campuses have good locations to implement clean energy such as parking lots, rooftops and land for wind turbines.

College Campuses Are Ideal Places for 100 Percent Renewable Energy

According to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, the U.S. could reduce its energy use by 40 to 60 percent below current levels, since the U.S. wastes up to 60 percent of the energy it consumes. College campuses are ideal for renewable energy because they are major energy users, spending $14 billion on energy each year. The self-contained nature of campuses makes it possible to implement microgrids, self-contained electric grids that can function independently of the central power grid. Microgrids allow campuses to function even when there are central grid outages. Our own institution, Santa Clara University, has been building a microgrid system that uses weather reports to maximize renewable energy and sensors in buildings to monitor energy use.

Moreover, colleges are in a position to promote and train students to be more mindful of energy saving solutions. College campuses can save money by switching to renewable energy which is another added bonus. Additionally, campuses tend to have more resources to be able to implement long term savings. Students can play a vital role in helping with renewable energy innovation, and their training will be needed to move our society to renewable energies.

College Campuses Are Leading the Transition to Renewable Energy

Butte community college became the first college in the nation to become “grid positive.” Butte built solar panels on rooftops, in open fields, and on parking lot canopies and shade structure. Butte’s green power eliminates 1000 passenger vehicles worth of carbon dioxide and will save the school $100 million over the next 30 years. Furthermore, the school offers classes that train students to work with solar panels.

The University of Delaware has a wind turbine that is 256 feet tall with 144 foot long blades. Not only does the wind turbine offer energy but it also offers students the opportunity to study the impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats and the corrosive impact of salty coastal air on the turbines.

Ball State in Indiana has one of the nation’s largest geothermal energy systems. The system runs water through pipes underground in order to heat and cool 5 million square feet in 47 buildings. The project saves about $2 million in operating costs per year and has created 2,300 jobs in the community.


Because of their size, resources, and unique structure, colleges have a unique opportunity to support the development of renewable energy.  With college campuses driving innovation throughout the nation, these small communities will be vital in pushing the nation forward on the environmental front. More campuses should start implementing and training students in renewable energies.

My personal interest in renewable energy began when I enrolled in a Bio Resource Agriculture Engineering course in renewable energy at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I found the technology to create such complex system fascinating. And while I had heard previously that Santa Clara University has been taking steps to become carbon neutral, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Santa Clara University’s leadership in this report. And to hear that Butte community college was the first college to become “grid positive” was particularly surprising.  As a Santa Clara University student, I am proud that my institution, and institutions like it, are proactively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

Haley Costamagna

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