Renewable Possibilities at the University of Vermont

November 6, 2012

By Mieko A. Ozeki, Sustainability Projects Coordinator, University of Vermont

(This article appears in the November, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

How significant a role can campus-based renewable energy play in the University of Vermont’s (UVM) progress towards carbon neutrality?

Back in 2011 this question spurred the University of Vermont’s Clean Energy Fund to award up to $100,000 toward a Comprehensive Campus Renewable Energy Feasibility Study (CCREFS). The intent of the study was to generate scenarios to aid in renewable energy planning at UVM by getting a broad view of the potential for these technologies on-campus. The outcome of this study will also help to inform meeting UVM’s Climate Action Plan first target of becoming carbon neutral with our purchased electricity by 2015.

The funding for the CCREFS project was primarily sourced from UVM’s Clean Energy Fund (CEF), a student green fund approved in 2008 by UVM’s Board of Trustees. The CEF is sustained by a self-imposed student fee of $10 per student per semester and generates an estimated $225,000 per year. The fund was created in response to students’ desire to have UVM advance renewable energy research, education, and infrastructure on campus. To date, the CEF has awarded funding to twenty projects including the development of an internship program, CEF graduate fellowship, and lecture/workshop series.

The idea for this study began in 2009 and was proposed during the 2010-2011 funding cycle to the CEF Committee, an 11-member group predominantly composed of students with representation from alumni, faculty, and staff. The project was recommended by the CEF Committee and approved by the Vice President of Finance & Administration, Richard Cate, in Spring 2011. With the concept approved, theOffice of Sustainability and Capital Planning & Management worked together on a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an outside firm to conduct the analysis. We looked to other institutions that had conducted a comprehensive campus renewable energy feasibility study; to our surprise we found few institutions that had carried out studies at this scale and beyond site specific and/or technology specific studies. It was through outreach to the GRNSCHL listserv that we learned that the University of Connecticut (UConn) was beginning a “preliminary siting and feasibility study for installing various forms of on-campus renewable/sustainable energy generation.” Rich Miller shared UConn’s RFP for their Renewable Energy Strategic Plan, which helped us develop the wording as well as identify the goals and deliverables for the project.

The overarching goal of the CCREFS was to get recommendations for optimal renewable energy site locations on the University’s main campus in the City of Burlington (459 acres), and on south campus, located in the City of South Burlington (495 acres). The RFP identified three deliverables:

  1. Feasibility Study: a strategic campus renewable energy plan that included an assessment of the opportunities for the following renewable energy technologies: solar (thermal and photovoltaic), wind (ground mounted and building integrated), geothermal, biofuels and biomass, and fuel cells. We wanted the assessment to provide an overall maximum capacity of renewable energy potential of the UVM campus and recommendations that could be phased in to accommodate successive carbon neutrality goals. In addition, we wanted to determine the most appropriate renewable energy technologies for the University’s geographic location and climatic conditions as well as identify the optimal location of these technologies.
  2. Map: a visual representation of all potential installation locations divided into layers for each individual technology; and file formats (GIS and KML) for future planning or outreach use.
  3. Student involvement: an opportunity for student interns to gain professional experience and knowledge on renewable energy technologies.

The student internship component was modeled around an internship/consultant collaboration at Pomona College. Pomona hired a team of interns, who received training from the consultants to collect information for their sustainability audit. It is imperative for us to include students in the projects that they fund and to provide them with practical, professional development experience to prepare them for employment.

The RFP was released in Spring 2012 and attracted fifteen firms, resulting in nine proposal submissions. Clough, Harbour & Associates (CHA) was selected to conduct the study. The Office of Sustainability hired five UVM student interns to observe, document, and analyze the CCREFS project and the installation of a 32-kW solar PV system. Three of the CEF interns worked directly with CHA, as a technical team, to conduct field surveys of buildings, parking lots, and open fields on the University’s main and south campus. The interns surveyed each renewable energy technology (focusing on solar, wind, and geothermal) for a period of 1-2 weeks and submitted data to CHA for analysis.  CHA in turn provided data from each renewable energy technology feasibility study to their GIS specialist to create map layers.

Two interns worked together as the media and outreach team. The media intern filmed, edited, and produced videos on the project. The outreach intern collected progress reports from the technical team and produced PR materials on the implementation of the project. The interns wrote bi-weekly blog posts, a reflection and presentation on their internship experience, and a PR narrative of the project process in addition to their project deliverables. The intent was for each intern to develop materials for their professional portfolios and to get them to reflect on their career paths.

Data collection, analysis, and map development concluded in early September. Now as the CEF enters its fourth Call for Ideas, our committee and key stakeholders are using the results of the CCREFS as a guideline for future installations and to review current project proposals. CHA concluded that UVM had optimal locations, reasonable payback, and incentives to implement solar PV, solar thermal, and geothermal on-campus. We expect this student investment in this feasibility study will pay off in our long-term energy planning and meeting our climate action plan goals. The CCREFS also provides more opportunities for research on renewable energy development in cold weather climate and is highly relevant to the smart grid implementation underway in Vermont.

To learn more about the CCREFS check out the following video produced by CEF intern Daniel Hopkins ’13 on the survey process and from the poster presentation at AASHE 2012.