Infrastructure: Energy and Sustainable Design

The CSU has focused resources on increasing the generation and use of green energy as well as environmental design in new campus buildings. These efforts have helped the CSU to minimize a potential increase in its carbon footprint due to growing enrollment and technology usage. With California employment in the Energy sector growing 63 percent from 1995 to2008, the CSU is providing a platform for the future leaders of the green economy.

The CSU sources the majority of its electric power from utilities and, whenever possible, utilizes cogeneration, a very efficient means of producing electricity and thermal energy through the same process. San Diego State University has a co-generation 15 megawatt power plant that uses waste heat to produce power and operates at 72 percent efficiency as compared with most utilities, which operate at only 30—40 percent efficiency. This $22 million investment saves nearly $6.5 million in energy costs each year. The San Francisco State campus also operates 2.0 megawatts of cogeneration that produces electricity for campus use and reuses the waste heat for campus heating. Through the combined efficiency of the cogeneration plant, the campus realizes $500,000 to $600,000 annually in savings over the direct purchase of electricity and gas.

Furthermore, as the campuses have grown, the CSU has successfully offset the potential environmental impacts of this growth by decreasing energy usage per square foot. There have been significant improvements in per square foot energy consumption, despite increases in area, meaning that CSU has become more efficient in its energy use. That said, for the CSU to reach its goal, additional measures are needed.

Figure displaying reduction from 2003-2008 in BTUs/GSF vs Goal

Green Energy

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act AB 32 requires the state to reduce its carbon emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Renewable energy generation is an effective tool to help meet this goal as the California Energy Commission has identified electric power generation as a source of 22 percent of California’s carbon emissions.

The CSU has actively pursued the development of renewable energy sources to meet on-campus energy needs. Currently, 23 percent or 170 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of the CSU’s electric power come from renewable sources. CSU Northridge has one of the largest fuel cell systems at a public university in California, generating 1.3 megawatts of ultra-clean energy and capturing the carbon emissions for recycling and research in its campus subtropical rainforest project. CSU East Bay has one of the largest solar installations in Northern California, generating 1.45 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power 1,000 homes. In April 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the CSU in the Top 20 list of the largest national green power purchasers.

The CSU has a plan to achieve a total of 50 megawatts of ultra‑clean, clean, and renewable energy generation. Of this 50 megawatts, the CSU Board of Trustees has set a goal for the CSU to increase on campus renewable generation from the current 4.9 megawatts to 10 megawatts by 2014. The CSU is well on its way to exceed this target. The CSU’s longer-term goal to achieve energy independence for its campuses has significantly progressed over the past few years, with a key development being the Green Power Partnership with the Department of General Services launched in October 2005. This statewide program to install 21 megawatts in new solar capacity will increase that total from 23 percent to 33 percent from green sources. Through this innovative public-private partnership, the power purchase agreement would allow the CSU to buy renewable power at or below current retail rates, while avoiding the cost of installing the system. Under the program, 15 CSU campuses will have solar panels installed on roofs, atop parking canopies and in ground-mounted arrays, offsetting approximately 6,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing nearly 1,200 cars from the road annually or providing annual electricity for 800 homes.

Sustainable Design

The CSU has taken notable action to implement energy use reduction measures and improve sustainability across its campuses. A very effective and successful example is the construction of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED™ qualified buildings on various CSU campuses over the last several years. The following figure provides a list of LEED™ projects at CSU campuses that have either achieved LEED™ certification or are working toward LEED™ certification. (In addition to these LEED-certified or in-process projects, the CSU has many other completed or in-process projects that are equivalent to all LEED levels but due to certification costs have chosen not to pursue LEED certification.)

Table 1. CSU LEED™ Projects.


Building (LEED™ Certification) (Status)


  • Student Services (Gold) (Completed and Certified)

  • Wildcat Activity Center (Silver) (Completed)

  • Housing and Dining (Silver) (Construction)

  • Natural History Museum (Silver) (Completed)


  • Student Recreation Center (Gold) (Completed and Certified)

  • Student Housing (Gold) (Design)


  • Behavioral and Social Sciences (Gold) (Completed and Certified)

  • Schatz Energy Center: (Gold)(Construction)

  • Kinesiology & Athletics Building (Silver) (Completed)

Long Beach

  • Recreation Center (Silver) (Construction)

Los Angeles

  • LEED™ Existing Buildings(EB) Pilot Portfolio- 21 Projects

  • Hydrogen Fueling Station (Certified) (Construction)

Monterey Bay

  • Library (Certified) (Completed and Certified)


  • Performing Arts (Silver) (Construction)

  • Student Recreation Center (Gold) (Construction)


  • Residential Suites (Silver) (Construction)

  • College of Business Administration (Silver) (Construction)


  • Recreation and Wellness Center (Silver) (Construction)

  • Student Housing Phase 1 (Silver) (Completed and Certified)

San Bernardino

  • Palm Desert Campus Phase 3 (Gold) (Completed)

  • College of Education Building (Honorable Mention) (Complete)

San Diego

  • Manchester Hall (LEED™ EB) (Completed and Certified)

  • Aztec Center (Platinum) (Design)

San Francisco

  • Performing Arts (Gold) (Design)

San José State

  • Moss Landing Facility (LEED™ EB-Gold Pilot Program) (Completed and Certified)

  • Health Center (Silver) (Design)

  • Student Union (Silver) (Design)

  • King Library (Silver) (Completed and Awaiting Certification)

San Luis Obispo

  • Poly Canyon Village Student Housing (Gold) (Completed and Certified)

  • Mathematics and Science Building (LEED™ EB) (Completed and Certified)

  • Recreation Center (Silver) (Construction)

San Marcos

  • Social & Behavioral Sciences Building (Silver) (Construction)


  • Science 2 (Certified) (Completed and Certified)