USC became an early adopter of digital and automated building system controls in the 1980s. Since then, we have pursued a reliable, cost-effective approach to energy conservation that focuses primarily on building-system efficiency. The keystones of our energy management program are:
- a centrally-managed climate control system
- a central chilled-water system with thermal storage
- energy-efficient lighting systems (first installed in 1998)
The university has expanded the central chilled-water system into older buildings, and removed inefficient stand-alone chillers. Each year, we replace aging heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems with the latest energy-efficient units through planned maintenance and building renovations.
When the university upgrades facilities or considers new sustainable energy technologies, three major infrastructural and environmental factors are taken into account:
- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, our municipal water and energy utility, prohibits large-scale solar-power purchase agreements (PPAs); as a result, our energy portfolio does not include significant solar power.
- USC’s comprehensive 100-year building standards mandate that all new construction be designed to stand for at least a century. Compliance with these stringent codes and policies maximizes safety and minimizes maintenance costs. It may, however, increase energy-upgrade costs, complexity, and planning rigidity.
- Historically, natural gas is an inexpensive energy source in the Los Angeles Basin. As a result, significant investment in gas infrastructure exists in most of USC’s 450 buildings.
Despite these challenges, USC’s long-term energy-conservation strategy has resulted in a strong energy-efficiency profile compared to peer institutions.
In 2018, USC conducted a comprehensive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions survey facilitated by Unlimited Carbon Assistance Network (UCAN). The next GHG assessment – slated for 2020 – will provide baseline performance metrics for the Sustainability 2028 Plan (currently in development). Thereafter, GHG surveys will be conducted annually. A summary of USC’s 2014-2017 GHG report is here:
In 2020, USC will undertake its first official/published sustainability assessment under the AASHE STARS System. Administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) is a transparent self-reporting framework for universities to measure their sustainability performance.
Energy Engagement Campaign
As part of the Sustainability 2020 Plan, the USC Office of Sustainability is rolling out its first energy engagement campaign in spring 2019. The campaign will promote energy-conscious habits and reduced resource consumption. As part of that effort, the results of the recent GHG emissions survey will be broadly circulated to educate the campus community about the opportunities and challenges associated with USC’s energy profile. The campaign also will include campus discussion forums.
USC Energy Initiatives
One of the principle elements of USC’s energy management program is its thermal energy storage chilled water system. Stand-alone chillers are being decommissioned; all campus buildings are being connected to the central chilled water system, which is 25-35% more efficient than the stand-alone systems. Where connection to the campus loop is not readily feasible, new energy efficient chillers are being installed.
Facilities Management Services and USC Housing are in the process of installing LED lighting and occupancy controls in many buildings. Expected benefits include a 50-percent reduction in lighting energy use and an extended service life of 10 years.
Recent projects include:
- A pilot program is underway to introduce LED lighting in classic exterior poles near the Kaufman Dance Center and other select locations.
- USC Housing has installed LED lighting upgrades 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.
- At the Keck Hospital, LED lighting has replaced nearly 11.000 T8 fluorescent lamps. 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.
- Recent installation of LED lighting fixtures in 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.
In the spring 2018, the university green-lighted $6.5M for additional LED indoor/outdoor lighting installations.
In 2017, USC hired a consulting firm to move Keck Hospital’s building systems into an automated platform. This digital upgrade identified problematic air handlers and dampers and flagged poorly performing components that required maintenance or replacement. This project has saved the university $110,000 in it first year and is expected to produce a net savings of $1.4M over five years.
LEED Certified Buildings
USC has five LEED-certified buildings:
- Tutor Campus Center
- Broad CIRM Center on the Health Sciences Campus
- Engemann Health Center
- Fertitta Hall
- USC Fire Station #14
All buildings on both campuses since 2010 have met the equivalent of LEED silver certification. However, to reduce costs, the university has elected not to have them formally LEED certified.
Climate Control Automation
USC’s centrally-managed climate control system ensures consistent energy monitoring and temperature control throughout every building connected to the system. In summer 2018, FMS is piloting a program that will schedule HVAC system shutdowns in 19 buildings when they are not in use.
Building Retro-Commissioning Audits
In summer 2018, senior administration authorized the expenditure of nearly $4M for comprehensive building energy audits across campus.
State and Local Energy Regulations
Pertinent regulations that shape USC’s energy sustainability efforts include:
- LA Energy and Water Benchmarking Ordinance (EBEWE Program, 2016) – Effective 2017, privately-owned buildings in Los Angeles that are over 20,000 square feet are required to be benchmarked, and owners must disclose annual energy and water consumption with reporting to begin on June 1, 2019. Buildings must continue to report by June 1st of each year. Beginning in 2020, buildings must demonstrate that they are energy and water-efficient or on a pathway to efficiency.
- SB100 – 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018. Passed by California legislators on Aug. 28, 2018, SB100 accelerates California’s current renewable energy goals. It was signed into Executive Order on Sept. 10, 2018. If signed into law the state will generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2026 (instead of 2030), 60 percent from renewable sources by 2030, and 100 percent from renewable or zero carbon sources by 2045.
Planning for Sustainability 2028
As the university begins developing our Sustainability 2028 Plan, we are exploring the feasibility of achieving net zero energy.