Energy Conservation


August 2019 Update

Energy and Water Dashboard

This summer, USC’s energy team launched a digital dashboard that displays UPC and HSC buildings’ electricity use in real time, as well as historical water and gas data on a monthly basis.  Increasing awareness of our resource use helps to make USC’s buildings more efficient.


Demand Response

When temperatures rise, high loads are placed on LA’s electrical grid. This summer, USC began participating 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 this year, 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 1p – 5p. 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

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.

January 2019 Update

In 2018, USC funded three new energy efficiency projects that will help achieve the 2020 Plan goal of 20% greenhouse gas emissions reduction.  The schedule for these energy projects is below:

  • HVAC Automated Scheduling Software – Project is in-progress, with 15 buildings and 242 classrooms already completed. The platform will be extended to an additional 259 classrooms. In one month alone, this project saved over 42,000 kWh.
  • LED Lighting Installation – The most recent LED project began in December 2018 at Popovich Hall (JKP) and projects are currently being reviewed at Lewis Hall (RGL). LED efforts will be done in coordination with RCx studies whenever possible and will cover buildings throughout the campus.
  • Existing Building Retro-commissioning (RCx) – 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.


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.

The keystones of our energy management program are:

  • a central chilled-water system with thermal storage
  • a centrally-managed climate control system
  • energy-efficient lighting systems
  • asset renewal with energy efficient solutions

USC Energy Initiatives

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.

Benefits of the Centralized Chilled Water 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.  


Climate Control Automation Projects

Scheduling Project: 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 HVAC system shutdowns in classrooms when they are not in use; test results exceeded expectations. The Events2HVAC scheduling software was purchased and now is in use at 15 buildings and 242 classrooms. An additional 259 classrooms will eventually be brought online.


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.


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.

Since then, design standards have changed to a more efficient lighting fixture and increased component efficiency. Incandescent lighting has been eliminated and replaced with energy efficient compact fluorescent lighting.  This next phase of the lighting program included dimming ballasts to better control light levels, and occupancy-based controls to provide energy savings.

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.

LED 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.
  • 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.   
  • 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.

In spring 2018, the university approved $6.5M for additional LED indoor/outdoor lighting installations.


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 


Solar Power 

USC operates small-scale solar installations off-campus at the Cardinal & Gold Sustainability Residence apartment building, and at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. The Wrigley Lab’s solar power installation provides 20% of that building’s energy needs. Renewable energy, coupled with energy efficiency, plays a role in conservation efforts.


Eighty-eight solar panels convert sunshine into electricity for the Wrigley Center’s dormitory and kitchen facilities. (Photo/Karl Huggins)


USC Green House Gas Emissions 2018 Survey

Energy conservation is a key component of USC’s GHG emissions reduction strategy. In 2018, USC conducted a comprehensive GHG emissions survey facilitated by Unlimited Carbon Assistance Network (UCAN). By fall 2018, we have reduced our GHG emissions by more than 10 percent, and are on track to meet the 2020 Plan goal of a 20% reduction. A summary of USC’s 2018 GHG Emissions Survey report is here: USC_GHG_emissions_survey2018_S-web-V_081518.

Our next GHG assessment – slated for 2020 – will provide baseline performance metrics for the Sustainability 2028 Plan. Thereafter, GHG surveys will be conducted annually. 

In 2020, USC will undertake a full sustainability assessment through 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 will roll out its first energy engagement campaign in fall 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. 

USC Housing will continue to run the annual fall Energy Conservation Competition between 7 of the 1st year residential colleges. Residents commit to energy conservation tips and practices. Last academic year’s competition resulted in an overall 3.42% reduction, equating to a 13,385 kilowatts savings. The savings were equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of 2 cars being driven for 365 days.


It is the culmination of our continued efforts and initiatives that keeps USC’s energy usage per sqft (KBtu/sqft) trending downward.  The graph below captures this success as FY18 energy use intensity is 16% lower than the FY09 value (103 kBtu/sqft vs 87 kBtu/sqft).


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 the university begins developing our Sustainability 2028 Plan, we are exploring strategies to further expand energy conservation efforts and reduce GHG emissions.