Energy Conservation

USC’s Energy Program was an early adopter of digital and automated building controls systems in the 1980’s. This was followed by the implementation of a Master Energy Program in the late 1990’s. Today, its reliable, cost-effective approach to energy conservation focuses primarily on building-system efficiency. USC’s long-term energy-conservation strategy has resulted in a strong energy-efficiency profile when compared to peer institutions.

More recently, USC has expanded investments in renewable energy systems, with solar installations on several campuses and a variety of facilities. USC continues to make changes to reduce energy use and increase efficiency, with an ambitious goal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions per square foot by 20% from 2014 levels by 2020.

Data from USC’s FY20 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory revealed that we surpassed our GHG reduction goal a year ahead of schedule, achieving a 35% reduction in normalized (per square foot) GHG emissions from 2014 levels.



Energy Initiatives

Solar Energy

USC currently operates small-scale solar installations at the Cardinal & Gold apartment building and at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island—where solar power provides 20% of the energy needs of the dining hall and kitchen. Renewable energy, coupled with energy efficiency, plays a significant role in USC’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Solar panels began to be installed on the Galen Center roof in February 2020 and now provide up to 15% of the arena’s energy use. The installation marks USC’s largest solar project to date, adding to our university solar portfolio.

Energy and Water Dashboard

In summer 2019, USC’s energy team launched a digital dashboard that displays real-time energy use on our University Park (UPC) and Health Sciences (HSC) campuses. The dashboard can also display historical water and energy usage. By broadening awareness of how we’re using these critical resources, we can motivate people to improve efficiency efforts.

Demand Response Program

When temperatures rise, high loads are placed on LA’s electrical grid. USC participates in LADWP’s Demand Response (DR) Program, which coordinates grid energy load reduction on high temperature days. 45 campus buildings are participating in the effort, and our cumulative target drop is 600kW. LADWP confirmed that USC achieved a drop of 833 kW (approximately a 4.2% drop on the UPC load) during our first DR event on July 25, 2019 from 1:00 – 5:00 PM. Below is a graphic from the building monitoring system which captures the reduction in load.  This reduction is equivalent to saving approximately 1,159 kg eCO2* (or 3,220 miles driven by the average car**). This achievement was possible because of student, faculty, and staff contribution to the effort.

    1. * Based on LADWP latest published fuel mix of GHG (kg eCO2/kWh) = 0.347905348
    2. ** Based on average American car usage per mile = 0.36 kg CO2e

Automated Scheduling to Improve HVAC Efficiency

USC’s centrally-managed climate control system ensures consistent energy monitoring and temperature control throughout every building connected to the system. In summer 2018, USC piloted a program that can schedule Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Cooling (HVAC) system shutdowns in classrooms when they are not in use, and test results exceeded expectations. The Events2HVAC scheduling software was purchased and now is in use at 18 buildings, 237 classrooms, and 40 air-handling units. Through this program, we’re registering energy savings at or above projected levels. In one month alone, this project saved more than 42,000 kWh. The program is projected to extend to an additional 259 classrooms.

USC Housing Energy Competition

USC Housing has coordinated an energy competition among seven residential colleges for the past several years. In spring 2019, the two-week energy competition engaged approximately 1,000 students and resulted in an overall energy reduction of 3.42%, saving 13,385 kWh.

City of LA Ordinance EBEWE Benchmarking

EBEWE (Existing Building Energy and Water Efficiency Ordinance of Los Angeles) is part of the Los Angeles Sustainable City pLAn, and helps the city in reducing energy consumption 30% by the year 2035. This summer USC added energy and water data, along with building information, to ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager for 150 USC buildings. The data upload was completed with US Green Building Council’s Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC-LA), in coordination with LADWP and ReGen Consulting which provided support through the partnership with LA Trade Tech workforce training program. In the Junior Benchmarker Training and Certificate Program students learned how to benchmark, received a certificate and were connected with internship and job opportunities. A USC staff member presented to the students and discussed USC’s sustainability efforts.

Building Retro-Commissioning (RCx) and Energy Efficiency Audits

In summer 2018, USC senior administration authorized the expenditure of nearly $4M for retro-commissioning of more than 90 buildings over the next five years. RCx is the process of systematically evaluating existing buildings and systems. The purpose is to identify and implement operational and maintenance improvements, such as energy conservation measures. RCx can help improve a building’s system performance, capacity, and reliability, in turn saving both energy and dollars. This effort was required as part of the new City of LA’s Existing Building Energy and Water Energy Efficiency (EBEWE) Ordinance.

The first RCx and Energy Audit pilot project is being kicked off in January 2019 at Irani Hall (RRI) and the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA). This project is projected to include up to 150 buildings.

Lighting Program

USC’s ongoing lighting program implements advances in lighting technology, ensures consistency in lamp color across campus, and performs group re-lamping to minimize operational costs. The Master Energy Program in the late 1990’s included a campus-wide lighting retrofit which featured the first real advancement in fluorescent lighting technology, with lower wattage lamps and electronic components.

Now, USC is in the process of installing LED lighting and occupancy controls across many buildings. Expected benefits include up to 40% reduction in lighting energy use and an extended service life of 10 years from 3-4 years. In spring 2018, the university approved $6.5M for additional LED indoor/outdoor lighting installations. See below for details on USC’s various lighting projects:

  • Exterior Poles – Classic exterior poles were updated with LED lighting.  Efforts were made to ensure the “ambiance” of the campus was maintained during the evening hours by matching the color of the existing campus lighting systems.
  • Housing Buildings – LED lighting upgrades were completed in multiple University Park Campus and North University Park Campus buildings. USC Housing anticipates that LED lighting will be installed in all eligible housing locations by the end of 2020.
  • Academic Buildings – LED lighting upgrades were completed at Popovich Hall in 2019, and we are preparing for installations at Lewis Hall, Mark Taper Hall, and Von KleinSmid Center in 2020.
  • Keck Hospital – LED lighting has replaced nearly 11,000 T8 fluorescent lamps at Keck Hospital. This project had a net cost of $160,000, with annual savings projected at more than $215,000, meaning the upgrade will pay for itself in less than nine months.  The HSC Bookstore also completed lighting retrofits. 
  • Athletics Arenas – The Galen Center completed an LED retrofit in 2019 in its arena and practice courts
  • Wrigley Marine Science Center – The center on Catalina Island finished an LED retrofit across its entire campus in 2019.
  • Parking Structures – The recent installation of LED lighting fixtures in several parking structures on the University Park Campus had a net cost of $60,000, with annual savings projected at more than $215,000. The upgrade paid for itself in four months.

Centralized Chilled Water Plant

USC Facilities Management Services (FMS) launched a Master Energy Program (MEP) in the late 1990’s that included the installation of a central chilled water system to 13 buildings that had aging, inefficient individual chillers. A high-efficiency chilled water plant was installed that incorporated variable flow, which allowed USC to pump only as much chilled water as needed. Along with a diversity of building loads it was able to provide substantial energy savings.

In the early 2000’s, a large construction program was launched with new buildings being designed with individual chiller plants. Recognizing the benefits of the central plant – and that it was not being utilized at night (i.e. at full capacity) – a second phase of the Master Energy Program was created that incorporated Thermal Energy Storage (TES). By running the chilled water plant at night to charge a 3,000,000 gallon tank, USC could meet the increased cooling load for the new buildings with no need for new individual chillers, while improving the overall efficiency of the central chilled water plant. The thermal storage tank is located under Cromwell Athletics Field on University Park Campus (UPC), and was installed when the field was renovated in 2004. In addition, this phase of the MEP included a central chilled water plant for the Health Sciences Campus (HSC).

In 2011 during the preparations for a major Capital Plan, a $74 million infrastructure project was identified and approved as part of the plan. This project has allowed USC to meet the electrical, heating, and chilled water loads for all new construction that has happened since, with the exception of USC Village, which has its own central plant.

The central chilled water system is 25-35% more efficient than stand-alone systems, reduces water usage for heat rejection, and provides a higher level of reliability.  The TES system qualified for a $1M LADWP incentive rebate for electrical demand reduction, helping to off-set construction costs.

This chart shows the growth of the chilled water system on the UPC campus, which now serves more than 70 buildings and 4,000,000 square feet (sqft). 

Centrally-Managed Energy Control System

In the mid 1990’s, USC approved a building renewal fund for building deferred maintenance, including replacement of HVAC equipment with more efficient air handling equipment.  Together with digital controls, this initiative lowered overall building energy consumption.

Direct Digital Controls (DDC) systems were installed on all major components of the HVAC systems, which enabled remote monitoring, system troubleshooting, and operating. Today all HVAC systems are computer-controlled so scheduling can be based on building occupancy and use, allowing building operation to be optimized.

This was the beginning of the Energy Control Center, which today monitors and controls all USC buildings. Space and building operations are reviewed daily, new energy efficiency sequences are programmed, and strategies to reduce peak electrical usage are deployed. The platform provides continuous optimization of building systems, including seasonal adjustments, reducing heating needs during the summer, and automated supply temperature adjustments based on current building conditions.  

The Building Energy Management system currently has over 145,000 points and allows the energy team to actively watch building operations and optimize energy usage for both UPC and HSC.  

Asset Renewal with Energy Efficient Solutions

Each year, USC replaces aging heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems with the latest energy-efficient units through planned maintenance and building renovations.  

One example of taking advantage of required upgrades to generate energy savings is the replacement of air handling units on the Electrical Engineering Building (EEB). This project provided the opportunity for a “Deep Energy Retrofit.” Energy efficient lighting and new temperature controls were installed at the room level; coupled with a space assessment, this enabled the installation of lower air handler capacity and equipment consolidation.  In addition, the building was also connected to the central chilled water system. The overall impact is $125,000 per year in savings, a 45% utility cost reduction for the building.

LEED Certified Buildings

LEED standards focus on a variety of areas including designing buildings and systems to save energy, water, and other resources. All buildings on both campuses built since 2010 have met the equivalent of LEED silver certification.

USC has five LEED-certified buildings:

  • Tutor Campus Center – Gold
  • Broad CIRM Center on the Health Sciences Campus – Gold
  • Engemann Health Center – Certified  
  • Fertitta Hall – Gold
  • USC Fire Station #15 – Silver 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories

In 2018, USC conducted its first comprehensive GHG Emissions Inventory facilitated by Unlimited Carbon Assistance Network (UCAN). 

Data from our FY20 GHG Emissions Inventory revealed that we surpassed our GHG reduction goal, achieving a 35% reduction in normalized (per square foot) GHG emissions from 2014 levels. See the FY20 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Summary for more information.



State and Local Energy Regulations

Pertinent regulations that shape USC’s energy sustainability efforts include:

  • LA Existing Buildings Energy and Water Efficiency Ordinance  – Effective 2017, a majority of privately-owned buildings in Los Angeles that are over 20,000 sqft are required to be bench-marked, and owners must disclose annual energy and water consumption. USC submitted the initial round of buildings in 2017 and has finished bench-marking all buildings requested by the EBEWE program in 2018. In total, the University expects to track over 100 buildings annually.Beginning in 2020, buildings are required to complete energy and water audits along with retro-commissioning reports every five years; the purpose of the reports is to identify specific energy and water conservation measures. This requirement is phased in over five years. Buildings that have achieved certain energy or water performance levels are exempt from the report requirements.
  • Assembly Bill 802 – AB 802, Building Energy Bench-marking Program, requires all buildings over 50,000 sqft, and meeting specific criteria, to disclose annual energy consumption to the state energy commission through Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Many buildings that fall under the EBEWE ordinance also fall under the state’s bench-marking requirements.
  • Senate Bill 100 – SB 100, California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program, was passed by California legislators in August 2018, and signed into Executive Order in September.  SB 100 accelerates California’s current renewable energy goals. The state will target generating 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2026 (instead of 2030), 60% from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% from renewable or carbon-free sources by 2045.


Planning for Sustainability 2028

As we develop the 2028 Plan, we are exploring strategies to further expand energy conservation efforts and reduce GHG emissions. Having significantly exceeded our 2020 Plan goal to reduce GHG emissions by 20% from 2014 levels, USC is looking to set even more aggressive energy and emissions goals for 2028.

See below for notes from the Sustainability Steering Committee’s 2028 Planning energy meetings: