How does the University of Michigan generate energy?
Have you ever wondered how the University of Michigan generates power to keep the lights on after hours? The university obtains power through both on-campus generation and local utilities such as DTE and Consumers Energy. However, this process is subject to change as the University moves towards carbon neutrality by 2050.
To achieve this, the university has set several goals. The University divides its emissions into three main categories — Scope 1, which covers emissions from energy produced on campus; Scope 2, which covers emissions from purchased electricity; and Scope 3, which covers indirect emissions from University-sponsored activities such as commuting. Based on the University’s carbon neutrality plan, the University aims to eliminate Scope 3 emissions and offset Scope 2 emissions by 2025, and to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2040 by 2050. aims to eliminate Scope 1 emissions by .
Again, the question remains: How will the university achieve these goals? Here’s a look at how electricity is consumed on the Ann Arbor campus. The Flint and Dearborn campuses pursue the same climate goals, but are not included in this article.
How electricity is currently produced
According to Drew Horning, special advisor to the president on carbon neutrality and managing director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, the University currently gets about 60% of its electricity from purchased sources, with the remaining 40% coming from on-campus generation. Interview with The Michigan Daily. The bulk of the electricity generated on campus comes from the Central Power Plant (CPP) located adjacent to the Hillside Neighborhood.
On a tour of CPP, plant manager Malcolm Bambling told The Daily about the plant’s focus on reliability, saying the University’s own power generation ensures they are not completely dependent on private utilities. Bambling also described a network of underground tunnels throughout the campus used to transport electricity, steam and hot water. Burying the cables, Bambling explained, helps protect them from the elements and is therefore more reliable.
In January, the University completed an expansion of the CPP that added a 15-megawatt turbine and included a new ring design that allows electricity to remain operational even if one of the transformers fails.
Although the expansion was in the works before the University set carbon neutrality goals, Horning said the upgrade still helps reduce carbon emissions in line with its goals.
“It’s (CPP) cleaner than the grid mix,” Horning said. “It is a combined heat and power plant… the waste heat from the combined heat and power plant is captured and transferred to buildings throughout the central campus through steam tunnels. This was key to both improving the efficiency of our power system and also a lot around the resiliency of the power system that supports the medical facility in the event of a power outage.”
UM alum Zackariah Farah, spokeswoman for Public Power of Ann Arbor, said she views the expansion as a short-sighted project that doesn’t listen to community feedback.
“They shouldn’t have invested more than $80 million in expanding the methane-fired power plant,” Farah said. “They didn’t meet with the environmental students who were worried about it, they just went ahead and said, ‘Well, technically this will reduce emissions because we’ll reduce our dependence on DTE.’
CPP currently uses natural gas, fossil fuel, and a combined cycle process to generate electricity, which can significantly increase efficiency compared to a simple steam generator. By improving energy efficiency, Horning said, the University can run the plant longer, keeping carbon dioxide emissions lower per kilowatt-hour.
The rest of the power used by the university comes from outside sources. Currently, all electricity at North Campus is obtained from DTE, except for a portion of the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). The Central Campus is fed partly from the Central Power Station and partly from purchased electricity.
The electricity currently purchased by the University comes from a mix of renewable and non-renewable sources. DTE’s energy mix consists of approximately 9.58% renewable sources such as wind and solar. In 2021, the University announced it would generate 200 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year from wind farms operated by DTE, reducing annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons. In 2022, the University emitted approximately 228,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in purchased electricity.
The university also plans to reduce its transport fleet as a step towards reducing Scope 3 emissions. Logistics, Transportation and Parking has purchased four electric buses that will be put into service in 2023.
How will energy be created in the future?
To meet its primary goal of carbon neutrality by offsetting Scope 2 emissions by 2025, the University issued a request for proposals (RFP) to rely primarily on fully renewable sources by 2025. According to the RFP, the Ann Arbor campus requires 125 million kilowatt hours. electricity per year.
Carbon emissions at the university are measured through renewable energy credits (RECs). Each REC is equivalent to one megawatt hour of electricity. According to an email from Horning, the University purchased 150,000 RECs in 2022.
According to the RFP, the University estimated it would need 159,500,000 kilowatt hours per year to meet its annual purchased energy requirements using solar or wind power. Solar power in Michigan requires far fewer kilowatt-hours of electricity per year because Michigan has fewer hours of daylight per day than places closer to the equator. However, compared to warmer climates, Michigan has a lower average temperature – semiconductors like solar panels are more efficient.
Although solar is not generally as efficient as it is in sunny climates in Michigan, the University plans to expand solar photovoltaic systems across campus in an RFP to be released later this year.
Sierra Club President Brendan Ireland, a senior in engineering, said he wants the University to include more solar energy in new construction.
“I think the University should build solar panels everywhere,” Ireland said. “They should put things like solar panels on the parking lots or solar panels all over their roofs.”
Another major energy source described in the RFP is wind power. The state of Michigan has an extensive coastline that provides ideal conditions for wind energy, which the University is using to build a wind farm in 2021.
The university itself has a separate contract with DTE, The Daily has obtained. The contract requires that at least 40% of the campus’ electricity be purchased from DTE at a capped rate of electricity generated per kilowatt hour. The agreement allows the University to determine the amount of electricity that comes from renewable energy.
Ireland said the direct power is distributed throughout the power grid and therefore cannot be allocated to specific buildings on campus.
“(There are) renewable energy credits that you can buy and sell in the market, which are abstract,” Ireland said. “It’s not (literally), ‘You’re getting the energy from this solar panel over here.’ There’s power building up there and it’s filtering out and then you’re pulling it out with these credits.”
CPP also uses a combustion turbine that can run on a variety of gases to generate electricity, including fuel oil and hydrogen. Hydrogen gas can be burned without any carbon emissions and with minimal risk of heating.
The university also converted the heating and cooling systems in the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building to clean energy, while the rest of the building’s energy sources still come from fossil fuels. The building will be heated and cooled using a geoexchange system, which will reduce the need for electricity for heating and cooling – as will the steam tunnels throughout Central Campus. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 55% of the energy consumed by households is used for heating and cooling. A similar geoexchange system will be installed in the new North Campus residence hall.
Earlier this year, the University announced $300 million in green bonds — funds dedicated to “green” capital projects like the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building.
The university has committed to building more geo-exchange sites on North Campus in the future as part of the North Campus Utility Master Plan. According to Horning, the University plans to implement geoswap systems on Central Campus in the future, but currently faces challenges related to land availability and complexities in converting existing buildings.
“Geo-exchange will play a role in our decarbonisation strategy for Central Campus and we are also looking at the viability of emerging technologies,” Horning told The Daily. “Ultimately, we hope our approach will serve as a roadmap for other institutions with comparable challenges.”
Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at [email protected].