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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities
A solar array outside of the T.B. Simon Power Plant


Energy on Michigan State’s campus comes from a variety of sources.


The T.B. Simon Power Plan was designed to burn both solid fuels, like coal, and natural gas.  In 2016 MSU took the final steps to transition away from coal as the primary fuel and is now generating steam and electricity using only natural gas. 

Natural gas

The T.B Simon Power Plant’s source of fuel is natural gas. Natural gas consists primarily of methane, and is created along with other fossil fuels underground. In 2006, the plant added Unit No. 6, a natural gas combustion turbine and companion heat-recovery steam generator, which allowed the use of natural gas as a fuel source. Natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. For an equivalent amount of heat, it emits 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal. It releases very small amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and virtually no ash or particulate matter. Natural gas is traditionally more expensive than coal, but MSU’s use of natural gas is a key consideration in meeting Energy Transition Plan greenhouse gas goals.

 Historical amount burned

The chart below details how much of each fuel category was used each year, as well as the cost for coal and natural gas. Coal and biofuels are measured by the ton, while natural gases are measured by 1,000 cubic feet or mcf.









Coal (tons)








Natural Gas (mcf)








*Biofuel (tons)








*T.B. Simon Power Plant began burning biofuel in 2008. Biofuels include green wood, agricultural residues (annual grasses, animal bedding, corn stover) and cornstarch.

Geothermal energy

The Bott Building for Nursing Education and Research, located on Bogue Street south of Service Road, is the first building on campus to use ground-source thermal energy. The geothermal system heats and cools all 50,000 gross square feet of the three-story structure. The Bott Building is in the process of receiving LEED certification as a result of this feature. Watch this animated video to learn more about how the geothermal system works.

Solar energy

Another alternative energy source used on MSU’s campus is solar energy. Two buildings, the Pavilion and the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center, house solar arrays of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert light energy into electricity.

Photovoltaic systems require no fuel, produce no emissions and make no noise. They do not emit any carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. In addition to the environmental benefits, a PV system is easy to maintain because it has no moving parts and is useful during power outages. It saves cost by reducing demand for purchased power.

Solar array at the Pavilion

MSU’s Solar Demonstration Project was launched in August 2003 with help from Consumers Energy and the Michigan Department of Consumer & Industry Services. Its goal is to inform the Pavilion’s visitors and MSU students about the workings of solar energy and its potential uses. A display cabinet in the main lobby explains the system and shows collected data.

The Pavilion does not draw power from MSU’s grid. Instead, it uses power from Consumers Energy and its own solar array. The array consists of 72 panels, a total of 900 square feet in area. It is designed to deliver 10kW at full strength but its output depends on the strength of the sunlight.

Since its launch the array has generated about 45,000 kWh, enough energy to power a typical Midwestern home for four years and prevent 64,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the air.

Solar array at MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center

The MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center has a rooftop array that contains more than 192 solar panels. It provides more than 37,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year. That amount is enough to cover 10 percent of energy needs for the 74,000-square-foot center.

Inside the building, visitors can see a real-time display of the energy generated by the sun. Many of the nearby streetlights are also powered by solar panels.

In 2010, the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center earned the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification. Gold is the second-highest designation offered.