Beyond the Meter - Episode 3: Renewable Energy Sourcing In Higher Education
Renewable Energy Sourcing In Higher Education, with Wolfgang Bauer and Scott Therien
The use of renewable energy is becoming more and more common on campuses of higher education across the country - and it’s not surprising. Institutions of higher education are both massive consumers of energy and are in the business of learning and teaching. That combination makes them ideal laboratories for innovation and advancement in the field. This episode features two guests, Wolfgang Bauer and Scott Therian who are both uniquely positioned to speak on renewable energy sourcing and adoption as it relates to higher education.
Wolfgang is Associate Vice President for Administration at Michigan State University. His expertise is in renewable power systems integration, micro-grid management, energy efficiency, and sustainability. Scott is Project Development Manager at REC Solar. He has spent the last 9 years in the solar industry after getting his education in electrical engineering with a focus on power systems, energy conversion, and renewable energy sources.
Join these two renewable energy experts and host, John Failla of Smart Energy Decisions for this intriguing and insightful episode.
Outline of This Episode
- [1:05] What are the drivers for renewable energy sourcing in higher education?
- [8:02] How renewable energy fits into the energy sourcing of many colleges
- [18:09] Why are universities moving slowly on renewable energy sourcing?
- [26:42] Will higher education institutions accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles?
- [29:52] What is happening in universities by way of innovation to drive renewable energy adoption?
- [39:27] Final comments about the topic from Wolfgang and Scott
University campuses are huge energy consumers. Is it possible for them to use renewable energy?
Most universities are strategizing around the use of renewable energy, both in terms of how to use more renewable energy for current needs, and how to increase the use of renewable energy through establishing their own sources of RE in the future. But there are many variables that either support or hinder the adoption of renewable energy in these institutions. One advantage is that universities are long-standing institutions, which provides stability and inertia that can be leveraged toward multi-year contracts with renewable energy companies. But other factors can make the adoption of renewable energy difficult. For example, many land grant institutions have the advantage of developing their own sources of renewable energy, while urban universities have less opportunity to do so.
What are the drivers for adoption of renewable energy in higher education?
For institutions of higher learning, as well as other large organizations, a choice no longer has to be made between environmental sustainability and fiscal sustainability. Both can be a reality. The levelized cost of large scale solar and wind power is now lower than that of fossil fuel-generated power - even with the historically low cost of natural gas that has resulted from Fracking. For this reason, cost is a significant driving factor for the adoption of renewables at universities.
But also, due to political pressure, more and more universities are making progressive pledges that put them at the forefront of the renewable energy stage. They want to be seen as leaders in this innovative and future-oriented field. As a result, many universities are entering into cooperative agreements with public sector organizations to bring the reality of renewable energy on campuses to life. Listen to hear more drivers for the adoption of renewable energy at these institutions.
Renewable energy sourcing is not something universities are used to doing
The adoption of renewable energy is challenging for universities because it’s not like any procurement the administration is used to doing. In the past, energy needs would simply be procured from the local utility company. But the marketplace has changed and now schools have many options for meeting their energy needs. And the transition from old energy models to renewable energy involves complex projects that require much foresight and planning, which often gets bogged down in committee.
But many universities are beginning to move in the right direction - restructuring their administration to take energy needs into account with the creation of administrative positions such as Director of Sustainability or Director of Energy and Utilities. As well, the use of third party consultants is becoming more commonplace since most universities don’t know exactly what they need when it comes to renewable energy. Consultants can help the institution get through the decision-making process in an informed way so they can more quickly lay out exactly what they need. This facilitates the bidding process to get adoption projects underway.
The complex and multi-faceted needs of universities are driving innovation
The fact that higher education is an intriguing market for developers and renewable energy contractors makes it a natural fit for universities to become laboratories for innovation in renewable energy - from a business model standpoint, from a financing standpoint, and from a technological standpoint.
Partnerships between universities and renewable energy companies are becoming more and more common as a result. For example, REC Solar has developed a renewable energies lab at California Polytechnic University where students can learn, the educational offerings of the university are enhanced, and the team at REC is learning how to operate their own assets better. Over time, it’s almost certain that more and more evolutions of this kind will be created between private and public sector organizations to move the renewable energy movement forward.
There are so many topics discussed in this episode, you’ll want to hear the entire thing, so be sure you listen.
Resources & People Mentioned
- Michigan State University
- REC Solar
- California Polytechnic University
- The Smart Energy Decisions Forums