Public Affairs


CSU Campuses Show the Way to a Sustainable Future

June 4, 2009
By Erik Fallis

The CSU is currently developing 18 megawatts of new green renewable energy projects. These projects are on top of the five megawatts already generated on CSU campuses. In addition, 37 megawatts in existing and future cogeneration projects use the same energy source to produce both electricity and useful heat in a way that lowers emissions and raises efficiency. In total, the CSU will generate more than 60 megawatts of power from ultra-clean or renewable sources by 2011 – exceeding the 2014 goal set by the CSU Board of Trustees.

That is not enough for the CSU – the nation’s largest public university is breaking new ground on sustainable practices. This includes more efficient buildings, new ways of dealing with energy by-products, and enlisting the help of the university’s greatest asset: its students.

This June, CSU projects on four campuses will be honored with an Energy Efficiency Partnership Best Practice Award and held up as models for California’s public universities and colleges.

An artistic rendering of Cal Poly's Center for Sciences
An artistic rendering of the Cal Poly San
Luis Obispo Center for Sciences – the
building is designed as a model for a
large number of sustainable features
and energy management best practices.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo: Putting Energy to Work in a Smarter Way
When Cal Poly San Luis Obispo planned the Center of Sciences, it set out to create a building that could serve as a model for the future. The designers created a building that includes an energy-efficient exterior to insulate it from the heat and cold extremes of outdoors. Internally, the building uses advanced methods for heating and cooling.  Instead of pumping hot or cold air directly into a room, the center will heat and cool the walls and floors, which will radiate the energy into the open space. The center will also use water traveling through “chilled beams” to remove excess heat.

Cal Poly SLO is using electricity wisely in other ways. Demonstration projects involving lighting, fans and air compressors showed that energy savings of more than 50 percent in some cases could be reached by selecting the right commercially available hardware and by using wireless smart grids. Finally, Cal Poly SLO students helped the university save energy in the areas of computing and dishwashing by setting optimum computer power-save settings and helping campus dining services choose the most efficient replacement dishwasher available.

CSU Northridge: A Rainforest Takes Hold
When most people think of Southern California, they do not typically have the image of a subtropical rainforest in mind. The students and facilities staff of CSU Northridge are working to change that.

CSUN has a one megawatt fuel cell power plant – the largest such installation of any university in the world. The ultra-clean plant produces 18 percent of the campus electricity, and simultaneously eliminates associated heating, cooling, and maintenance costs. Because fuel cell technology is combustion-free, it produces nearly zero particulate emissions.

What the fuel cell does produce is water with some leftover heat and carbon dioxide, the perfect diet for the carbon hungry plants of a rainforest. Using a custom design series of hoods, the open forest is fed a constant stream of moist, carbon dioxide rich air to be absorbed for use in plant photosynthesis. The ground is also specially prepared with biochar and other organic materials to absorb carbon. Even in the short time that this area has been in operation, the subtropical plants have had an explosion of growth.

Cal State San Bernardino Chemical Sciences Building
The 57,000 square foot Chemical
Sciences Building at CSU, San Bernardino
uses special technology to search out
wasted energy.

CSU San Bernardino: Big Brother Comes to the World of Energy
Orwell’s vision of every corner being monitored may be coming to life, at least for the air conditioning system of the 57,000 square foot CSU San Bernardino Chemical Sciences building. A process called Monitoring Based Commissioning (MBCx) is used to search out any wasted energy. Temperature, pressure and mechanical operations are all observed by a smart grid to ensure optimum efficiency. Savings for the building include an eight percent reduction in electricity use, a 35 percent reduction in chilled water load, and a 70 percent reduction in hot water use, for an annual cost savings of $50,000.

Humboldt State: The Green Collar Workforce of Tomorrow (Honorable Mention)
Humboldt State Green Campus interns have significantly raised the profile of energy efficiency on their campus and in the surrounding community. Expanding on an office energy audit program that they launched in 2004, Green Campus interns partnered with the HSU Extended Education program to offer a series of energy auditing seminars. Open to HSU students and community members, these seminars taught participants the skills they need to help save energy at the HSU campus or at their homes and businesses.