More Than 40 Colleges and Universities Earn Top Scores On Renewable Energy

Report Cover Photo: Environment America website, Johan Poz via Pexels.com, PanitanPhoto via Shutterstock.com

It’s back to school time, and this year there are dozens of American colleges and universities that are powered 100% or more by renewable energy, according to a recent study published by Environment America and the Frontier Group.  In addition, schools are moving rapidly to taking reduce their energy consumption, deploy renewable energy technologies, and switch to electric vehicles (EVs).   The top university on renewables use is Georgetown in Washington, D.C. that gets 130% of its energy from renewable sources.  And the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida led in the EV category. Colby College in Maine ranks first for using renewable energy for its non-electrical energy needs, thanks in part to energy from a geothermal system

Why This Matters:  Colleges are setting a great example for other large institutions on reducing their energy consumption and switching to renewables.  Yes – they are ideal places to lead the renewable energy transition because they are large energy users and are well suited to using microgrids to expand the use of renewable energy, as well as to use EVs.  A 2020 Princeton Review survey of more than 10,000 college applicants found that two-thirds of them would factor in schools’ environmental commitments — including commitments related to energy use — when deciding where to attend.  Another way that school rankings can drive excellence!

What All Schools Should Do

The Report lays out the steps for colleges and universities to take to achieve top rankings.  These are:

“Set a goal to obtain 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources – including for electricity, heating and other building energy needs, and campus-owned vehicles.  To achieve this goal, schools should:

  • Reduce energy consumption through energy efficiency improvements and energy conservation initiatives including,
  • Use renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, to supply 100 percent of their electricity.
  • Transition all other building energy systems – including heating, hot water and cooling – to be electric or powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar hot water or ground-source heat pumps.
  • Swap all fossil-fuel powered vehicles for EVs.

Enable and encourage students and employees to commute to and from campus sustainably by walking, biking, taking transit, or using EVs.

Purchase goods and services – such as food and travel – that minimize the use of fossil fuels.”

How the Rankings Are Determined

The rankings in the report are based on colleges’ and universities’ most recent reports to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).   Of 127 colleges that reported data to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Green Power Partnership, an impressive 42 are now meeting at least 100 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy generated by the university or purchased through power purchase agreements (PPAs) or renewable energy certificates (RECs). Seventy-six colleges are getting at least 50 percent of their energy from renewables.  Hopefully, the improvements will continue despite the economic challenges that the COVID pandemic is causing schools and the trends will remain good once all students are able to return to campus life.

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