Michigan State University is working hard toward a cleaner energy future. So far, its environmental impact has been equivalent to planting a half million trees each year.
With guidance from a 24-member committee of students, faculty and staff, the university is following a plan to continue its transition to a campus increasingly powered by renewable energy.
Q. How has the university reduced emissions while increasing renewable sources?
Under the university’s Energy Transition Plan, launched in 2012 and updated in 2017, MSU has substantially reduced greenhouse gases while growing our renewable energy sources. In fact, the university has reduced greenhouse gases by 30 percent from the power plant and other stationary sources.
The largest emissions reduction was achieved by ending the use of coal at the T.B. Simon Power Plant in 2016 and replacing it with cleaner, reliable natural gas. This switch resulted in emissions reductions of more than 410 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year, despite the large growth of MSU’s building square footage and electricity consumption during this time.
The first two renewable energy projects implemented under the plan were the anaerobic digester, completed in 2013, and the carport solar array which recently completed its first year of operation. The anaerobic digester diverts food and animal waste along with other organic material away from the landfill to produce renewable biogas and organic fertilizer. The renewable biogas is then converted into electricity.
The carport solar array is the largest of its kind in America and has collected numerous awards. It provides up to 18 percent of MSU’s peak power and is projected to save more than $10 million in electricity costs during the next two decades.
Q. What’s next for power generation on campus?
MSU will continue to transition over the coming years to more renewable energy sources that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money and ensure reliable power on campus.
The next step is to upgrade the plant with three reciprocating internal combustion engines. The engines will increase energy efficiency and reliability while further reducing emissions and modernizing aging assets.
The new engines will allow MSU to generate power independent of steam production creating a reduction in excess steam production at the existing plant. This will save MSU fuel expenses of nearly $7 million a year and will further reduce emissions by about 100 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Additionally, the engines will have a faster response time than the existing plant. This will enable the university to respond faster to Michigan’s unpredictable weather such as rapidly changing cloud cover over the solar arrays. They have the potential to triple MSU’s renewable contribution and support the transition over the coming years to increasing amounts of renewable sources.
Q. How long has MSU operated its own power plant?
As the nation’s pioneer land-grant university, MSU was one of the first to use microgrid technology. The university has produced its own electricity and operated its own microgrid since 1894. Not long after the invention of electricity, an electric distribution system was added to campus power generation equipment in the first university central boiler house. Microgrids are now celebrated for reliability and cost savings.
The T.B. Simon Plant opened in 1965, becoming just the fifth power plant at MSU. The co-generation power plant provides electricity for campus and steam to heat and cool most campus buildings.