With a new Energy and Climate Plan, Stanford assumes a leadership position nationwide in reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions


Joseph Stagner is executive director of sustainability and energy management.

Stanford took a bold step in 2009 to tackle the threat of global climate change by developing an ambitious, long-range, $250 million program to reduce its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

The new Energy and Climate Plan could reduce the campus carbon impact by as much as 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, far exceeding the goals of California’s landmark AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act.

The Energy and Climate Plan is one among many accomplishments that place the university among the nation’s top colleges and universities in terms of sustainability efforts. In 2009, the Sustainable Endowments Institute recognized Stanford among 26 colleges and universities for leadership in sustainability.

During 2009, the university also made significant progress in:

The Energy and Climate Plan, in particular, will further Stanford’s leadership position in sustainability nationwide. While the initial phases of the plan rely on energy conservation and changes to the campus heating and cooling scheme, even more greenhouse gas reductions may be possible through the use of renewable electricity and other energy management technologies still being explored.

The plan, one of the most ambitious at any major U.S. university, includes higher-than-required energy standards for new buildings, retrofitting of existing buildings, transformation of the campus energy plant, and programs to teach the university community how to reduce energy use.

A team of faculty and facilities experts, headed by Joseph Stagner, executive director of sustainability and energy management, worked on the plan for two years. After studying campus energy use, they discovered that over half the university’s heating demands could be met with heat that is already being removed from buildings by the campus cooling system. Such a reuse of energy would cut the amount of natural gas burned for heating purposes and thereby reduce energy costs, as well as emissions of greenhouse gases.

Specifically, campus cooling systems do their job by using chilled water to remove unwanted heat from buildings. For years, that unwanted heat has been piped away from the buildings in the form of warm water, only to be discharged into the air through evaporative cooling towers at the central plant.

But Stagner and his team believe that 70 percent of that lost heat could be recovered and reused to heat buildings. Such a system is possible where campus buildings are being cooled and heated at the same time—a common occurrence given Stanford's temperate climate.

Capturing and distributing the heat will require construction across campus. Most buildings are now heated by steam; for the new system to work, the steam will be replaced with hot water, requiring the replacement of underground pipes over the next 10 years or so.

The project also will bring changes to the university power grid. Stanford’s Cardinal Cogeneration plant, which burns natural gas both to create steam heat and generate electricity for the campus, will shut down in a few years. Instead, electricity will be purchased from PG&E or, if state regulators allow, other providers.