UT received a Green Power Leadership Award in fall 2017 from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the only school in the Southeast to win the award. Past recipients include Northwestern University, Oklahoma State University, and Ohio State University.
The honor came just six months after the EPA named UT as the top consumer of green power in academia. That number one ranking represents a nine-spot climb up the list in one year, and UT has repeated the ranking for a second year.
The Office of Sustainability achieved this success using the power of another type of green—money. By increasing the rate of renewable energy credit purchases, the staff raised the university’s green energy profile and freed up funding for new research.
“We were able to establish the Student Design Research Fund which allows students, with the support of a faculty or staff member, to research, design, or pilot a sustainable practice or technology that supports the overall sustainability program goals,” explains Office of Sustainability manager Preston Jacobsen.
With the help of the research fund, an industrial engineering graduate student studied more efficient technology for campus HVAC units. In another funded project, a group of students in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering researched UT’s energy demand management.
Looking ahead, the Office of Sustainability is involved in two upcoming green energy projects at Hodges Library.
One project researches a potential way to capture energy needs with battery storage that could hedge against peak energy costs. These costs can be up to three times the norm at certain times of the day and year.
The other project allows the study of real-time energy use in a building and informs future building designs for increased energy efficiency.
The Office of Sustainability is also looking for opportunities to build on established programs like UT’s solar-powered car charging stations.
This fall, the office will propose an alternative fuel program to reduce the amount of gasoline consumed by UT’s vehicle fleet. The cost-saving measures include replacing vehicles that are being retired with vehicles that are more fuel efficient.
The increasing use of green power at UT shows measurable success toward creating a more sustainable campus. According to the Office of Sustainability’s data collection program, net greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 48 percent since 2008.
Jacobsen says future sustainability programs will continue and expand efforts to make the UT campus carbon neutral.