Red and Black Goes Green: 5 ways UGA is becoming more sustainable

This blog entry was written by Allie Brown, former Clean Energy Advocacy Manager at SACE.

Guest Blog | December 15, 2016 | Energy Policy
UGA’s 1 megawatt solar demonstration project. Credit: Athens Banner Herald Richard Hamm/Staff

This is the first blog in a series, where SACE staff will evaluate college and university campuses investing in clean energy and sustainable practices. To read other posts in the series, go here.

In just a few years, the University of Georgia (UGA) has made significant sustainability strides. Before I dive in, maybe it’s important to address my potential biases: I’m a die hard UGA football fan and recent graduate of the university. Yet, while proud of my alma mater, I was also one of the biggest critics on campus when it came to UGA’s campus sustainability measures. In 2012, UGA was still burning coal from an outdated and dirty boiler and many administrative leaders were unreceptive to making major changes on energy efficiency and clean energy measures. As we approach 2017, it’s incredible to see what a few years can do. With strong campus leaders, a new President receptive to change, and direction from their Office of Sustainability, UGA is making clean energy and conservation more of a priority and we’re taking note! Below are 5 examples of how UGA is becoming more sustainable:

#1: UGA is reducing energy use and will surpass their 2020 goals:

The University of Georgia has made sustainability, and especially energy efficiency, a major goal moving towards the year 2020. In 2010, leaders at UGA mapped out a 2020 Strategic Plan, which included a sustainability section calling for a 25 percent reduction in energy usage by 2020. At a recent conference, UGA Vice President for Research David Lee said the University will easily fly past this goal. How? Through major energy efficiency improvements like LED lighting upgrades and replacing outdated chillers. New buildings on campus are required to target a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption beyond the standard code compliance. It’s important to note that it’s UGA’s energy per square foot that has gone down, not overall energy consumption as the university continues to add new buildings and infrastructure at a more efficient standard.

Source: Sustainable UGA

#2 In the past decade, UGA has decreased its overall water use by 30 percent:

From 2007 to the end of 2015, UGA reduced its statewide water use intensity per square foot by 31 percent (Keep in mind that this is gains in efficiency- and not net use). By updating equipment, steam plant improvements, and closely monitoring cooling towers, the University has become a leader in the state for water resource management. Additionally, the UGA Grounds team uses drip irrigation as much a possible – an efficient method of irrigation that reduces water evaporation and runoff.

#3: Soon the University will be adding 19 electric vehicle buses to their fleet:

Next year, 19 campus buses that run on diesel will be replaced with electric vehicles. The buses will improve campus air quality and are estimated to use 171,000 fewer gallons of diesel in a year.  Not to mention, the electric buses are easier and cheaper to maintain. Maintenance costs are expected to be 84 percent less than the older diesel buses.

#4: UGA recently installed a 1 megawatt solar array on campus:

In 2012, UGA installed a small 18-kilowatt solar system on the Jackson Street Building. While we applauded UGA for making their first steps towards solar, this accounted for a very small percentage of campus electricity. As solar prices continued to drop, UGA continued to invest in affordable clean energy by adding more solar. In 2015, UGA partnered with Georgia Power to install a 1-megawatt solar tracking demonstration project next to the sports complex on Milledge Avenue. The project provides a great research opportunity, as the panels have various technologies that track patterns of the sun to maximize the output of electricity. The goal is to determine which of the tracking configurations offers the most efficiency.

Student activists host a rally in 2012 to urge administrators to retire the coal boiler.

#5: UGA is now coal-free: 

In 2015, the last coal train left Athens, Georgia for good. Student activists with UGA Beyond Coal had been pushing the University to retire the outdated boiler for years, and it was hard to believe it was finally happening. UGA cut ties with the nearly 50-year-old coal boiler, which was a part of the steam plant on campus that also contains three natural gas boilers. The coal boiler was replaced by a 16-megawatt electrode boiler in September 2015, which will serve as a backup and gives the University the option to use electricity to power the boiler to make steam.

With these 5 major improvements, I’m now proud to yell “GO DAWGS” in more places than just the football stadium. While making progress, the University still has a ways to go, and lags behind many other large universities in the region in sustainability measures. If you want to learn more about UGA’s future sustainability goals, you can check out the plan here.

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