San Diego Business Journal

As part of its effort to promote renewable energy, UC San Diego will gradually reduce the amount of electricity it purchases from San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and replace it with "green" power produced from fuel cells and solar sources on campus.

The university currently buys about 15 percent of its energy from SDG & E; for 13 cents per kilowatt hour. The rest of the power comes from the cogeneration plant that houses a pair of jet engines that run on natural gas.

Within the next year and a half, the university plans to generate 7.4 megawatts from renewable energy sources , 3 megawatts of off-peak electricity purchased from Southern California wind farms; 2.4 megawatts from a pair of large fuel cells that run on methane gas recaptured from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant; and 2 megawatts from photovoltaic solar arrays set atop 26 campus buildings , says Gary Matthews, UCSD vice chancellor for resource management and planning.

The primary reason for the change, which may result in cheaper electricity bills, is to reduce the school's greenhouse gas emissions, university officials say.

The 1,200-acre campus's laboratories, hospital and intensive research efforts create a large appetite for energy, which peaks at 38 to 40 megawatts, underscoring the need for active conservation.

The university, which has 27,500 students and 26,000 employees, is negotiating contracts to buy energy from third-party vendors that will build the photovoltaic arrays and fuel cells and place them on campus. The school says it will not pay for any of the equipment, but purchase energy from the vendors on par with SDG & E; rates.

The 7.4 megawatts is enough energy to power 2,100 homes for a year and keep 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2, from entering the atmosphere, university officials say.

"Our changing climate, and especially global warming, is a growing problem that needs to be addressed now," said UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox at a recent news conference touting energy conservation.

Living Laboratory

UCSD, which is the home of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, is a living laboratory for climate solutions, administrators say.

It's the site where the Keeling Curve was pioneered 50 years ago that identified man's influence on global climate. University and Scripps researchers work on the science behind global climate change, so it makes sense that the physical operation of the campus be a model of fixing damage to the atmosphere, says Tony Haymet, vice chancellor of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"The important point from my point of view is that while we're out there campaigning to measure ocean acidity as CO2 dissolves in the ocean and monitoring every increasing emission of CO2, it's important that someone has our back when someone asks, 'What are you actually doing to lower emissions?' " he said.

"We're lucky to have our physical plant guys walk the walk," he said.

UCSD also promotes academic programs that use the talents of students and researchers across multiple disciplines , from chemistry and biology to political science and economics , to study not only the science of sustainability but policy implications.

One such program is the Environment and Sustainability Initiative, which is developing a micro-weather station network with weather monitors at campus locations to better manage its energy needs. Climate change engineers will be working with mechanical engineers and providing information to campus facilities managers.

"Where possible, they're interacting with folks on the operation side, which doesn't happen often," said Matthews. "I've been in this business over 30 years. This is the first institution I've been affiliated with that has really embraced it; which has allowed the day-to-day technicians to interact with researchers in a way that's bringing some of their research design and experiments within practical applications on campus."

Student Driven

A student initiative, the Biofuels Action and Awareness Network will study the emissions of a university bus that will run on 100 percent bio-diesel fuel between Hillcrest and La Jolla.

University vehicles have been using diesel engines that run on a 20 percent bio-fuel mixture for more than a year. For the "Greenline" shuttle bus, students will test interaction between bio-diesel and engine oil as the mixture changes during the next year from 20 percent to 100 percent.

The engine was donated by heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., which will use the student research in its own research and development, says mechanical engineering graduate student Melanie Zauscher, who is working on the project with students from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Department of Economics.

"We wanted to push the university to use more bio-fuels. One way to reduce our carbon footprint is to use different kinds of fuels," she said, adding that the diesel engine was originally designed by its namesake, Rudolf Diesel, in the late 1800s to run on many kinds of fuel. The first test engine ran on peanut oil, she says.

"Our students are coming to campus as undergrads ready and, most importantly, insisting that universities and colleges focus on sustainability," Matthews said. "They come with ideas on recycling and reduce light use. It's becoming more and more part of what we do on a daily basis all across the campus."

Meanwhile, UC San Diego also promotes bicycle clubs, van pools and increased mass transit use. All students and faculty members get a free bus card, which the university considers a less expensive alternative to building parking garages.

"The undergrads here are incredibly switched on to this issue," said Haymet.