U-M moves toward 100% renewable purchased power

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The University of Michigan announced steps toward procuring 100% renewable purchased power, expanded plans for geothermal heating and cooling systems, and $10 million in funding for additional LED lighting in approximately 100 buildings across all three campuses.

The emissions-reduction-related announcements come as the university launches a progress-tracking dashboard — available online for interested members of the community — and $300 million in “green bonds” for projects that align with U-M carbon neutrality goals.

The goals span the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses, Michigan Medicine and Athletics.

The university is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from purchased power by 2025, eliminating emissions from direct, on-campus sources by 2040, and identifying net-zero goals by 2025 for indirect emissions sources like campus food, commuting and university travel.

“Ten months ago, the university committed to achieving carbon neutrality across our three campuses. It is at the heart of all we do, in the lab, on campus and in partnership with communities near and far,” President Mary Sue Coleman said at the March 24 Board of Regents meeting, introducing an update on sustainability work. 

“More than being exciting, these climate action efforts are critically important to our collective future. Many, many people across campus are working to take decisive actions toward meeting our commitments and goals,” she said.

U-M commitments exceed international, science-based guidelines set by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As a product of its work to date and efforts ahead, the university is on pace to reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025, five years sooner and five percentage points beyond IPCC guidance. U-M also is committed to eliminating 100% of Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the IPCC’s global net-zero target.

100% renewable purchased electricity

U-M recently launched a request for proposals to enable the university to procure all of its purchased electricity on all three campuses from renewable energy sources, thereby reducing Scope 2 emissions to net-zero. Scope 2 emissions have historically been the largest source of U-M emissions.

The RFP calls for 160 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year from renewable sources. U-M already purchases 200 million kilowatt-hours per year from renewables and the Ann Arbor campus currently receives approximately half of its purchased electricity from Michigan wind parks.

Once U-M procures 100% renewable purchased power, the associated carbon reduction will be equivalent to removing every motor vehicle registered in Ann Arbor — approximately 70,000 — from the road.

“As new technologies continue to progress, it’s crucial that the university take advantage of renewable energy and help it prosper,” said Geoffrey Chatas, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Geothermal systems across campus

Chatas also noted that U-M launched a utility master planning effort for North Campus, focused on decarbonizing the campus’ heating and cooling infrastructure through geothermal exchange systems.

Geoexchange systems, which are similar to more widely known geothermal systems, use Earth’s constant subsurface temperature as a low-grade energy source. They can be used as either a heat sink in the summer or low-grade heat source in the winter. When powered by renewable electricity, geo-exchange is a highly effective way to heat and cool buildings, increasing energy efficiency by a factor of three.

Geo-exchange plans were unveiled in February for the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building, which will be the first large-scale university building to not rely on natural gas for heating, as well as for the newly announced North Campus residence hall, which will add 1,200 beds to campus. Ultimately, the two facilities will be incorporated into a larger North Campus system.

U-M also will install a geoexchange system in the new Ginsburg Center building planned for Central Campus.

Low-carbon innovations for buildings and vehicles

In January, U-M launched $5 million in energy conservation measures, to be financed by a shared revolving energy fund, which provides units across the university with funding support to pursue energy efficiency projects.

Chatas expanded on this work during the regents’ meeting, announcing an additional $10 million in new LED lighting projects across the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses — covering approximately 100 buildings and 10 million square feet of building space.

The newly announced projects also will be financed through the revolving fund, and annual savings will be reinvested to support future projects in perpetuity.

Logistics, Transportation and Parking recently purchased four electric buses, to be delivered in fall 2022, as a step toward decarbonizing the U-M vehicle fleet.

U-M also is collaborating with the city of Ann Arbor to expand electric-vehicle charging infrastructure on and off campus, and it is working on a plan to improve transit between North and Central campuses.

Green bonds and sustainable investing

In addition to internal mechanisms like the revolving fund, U-M is financing much of its sustainability work through “green bonds,” totaling $300 million, that the university recently issued for the first time. The bonds provide U-M with capital at an attractive interest rate to finance projects that advance U-M sustainability.

In addition, the Office of Investments is investing in renewable energy development and production, and is exploring several projects designed to advance carbon sequestration and mitigation.  

Sharing progress

Carbon neutrality working groups — covering areas such as building standards and campus life — continue convening across U-M to help develop new strategies and guidelines. 

U-M recently launched a progress-tracking dashboard at planetblue.umich.edu. The tool provides interested users a glimpse of past emissions levels, expected trajectories, and how university efforts track against institutional carbon neutrality goals and IPCC guidelines.

“Collaborating with the community is crucial in U-M’s work to combat climate change, and we’re committed to consistently sharing our efforts and progress,” said Drew Horning, special adviser to the president for carbon neutrality strategy.

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