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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities

MSU's commitment to prudent energy use

During its early years, the T.B. Simon Power Plant utilized the most advanced technologies available for a power plant of its size and purpose to serve the majority of the sprawling MSU campus.
The cogeneration of steam and electricity from a common fuel source is a thermodynamically efficient use of fuel and one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing carbon emissions of heating in cold climates. Cogeneration, or combined heat and power, captures heat created while generating electricity for 90% of the main campus, and rather than simply releasing it into the air, puts it to good use as pressurized steam to warm and cool the buildings. Underground steam tunnels distribute the heat and electricity, significantly reducing the risk of outages due to weather.

Research shows coal releases harmful byproducts when burned; this knowledge led MSU to adopt a vision of transitioning away from coal. Each year of increasing natural gas use and decreasing coal use led to reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In April 2016, MSU stopped burning coal entirely, contributing to emissions reductions equivalent to planting 500,000 trees. Since the introduction of this plan, GHG emissions have been reduced by 25.2 percent, a particularly noteworthy accomplishment given the university’s addition of 2 million square feet of building space in the last decade. The campus power plant is committed to reducing CO2 emissions further by installing more efficient equipment and optimizing the campus electrical and steam production process. The power plant also has been purchasing electricity off-peak through interconnection to the local utility to increase plant efficiency.

While the T.B. Simon Power Plant is a major part of the campus energy infrastructure, it is not the only source of on-campus energy. While renewable energy accounts for less than 9% of campus power, MSU has been working on expanding renewable energy resources. As space has been renovated or constructed at MSU, the university has taken advantage of opportunities to incorporate renewable energy to help reduce GHG emissions and energy demand on the power plant.

Reducing energy demand

Energy conservation and efficiency tools incorporated at MSU in recent years have been plentiful and have helped to reduce energy demand and consumption on campus.

Retro-commissioning, or tuning-up, of mechanical equipment, reducing run times for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), metering buildings, installation of sensor technologies, classroom consolidation, energy educator programs, smart meters, improved power management in computer labs, and consolidating high-energy using computer servers have all had an impact. BTUs/gross square foot has steadily decreased since fiscal year 2006-07, indicating that the campus has become more efficient in using energy due to energy conservation programs.

Despite these efforts, campus growth threatens to negate their impact. Historically, the MSU campus has added approximately 1 million square feet per decade. However, in the most recent decade, campus square footage grew by 2 million square feet and much of the new construction was in high energy research buildings such as the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) and the Plant and Soil Sciences Building. These projects will contribute a 2% increase in the average annual energy consumption. Unless MSU actively chooses to prevent campus growth, the only way to reduce demand is to increase energy conservation and efficiency measures.