Energy Conservation

3.2 Million gallon thermal energy storage tank beneath Cromwell Field.


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.

Infrastructure Hurdles

When the university upgrades facilities or considers new sustainable energy technologies, three major infrastructural and environmental factors are taken into account:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Chilled-Water System

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.

LED Lighting

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.

Building Automation

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 piloted a program that can schedule HVAC system shutdowns in buildings when they are not in use. Test results exceeded expectations, so the Events2HVAC scheduling software was purchased and is now in use in 15 buildings and 242 classrooms. An additional 259 classrooms will be brought on line in the 2018-2019 academic/fiscal year.

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, a majority of privately-owned buildings in Los Angeles that are over 20,000 square feet (sf) are required to be benchmarked, and owners must disclose annual energy and water consumption. The benchmarking requirement is phased in over three years by building size. By June 1, 2019 all buildings over 20,000 sf are required to be benchmarked on an annual basis via Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager, a nationally recognized benchmarking program that allows comparison of efficiency with similar buildings across the state and the country. USC submitted the initial round of buildings in 2017 and has finished benchmarking 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, based on parcel number. Buildings that have achieved certain energy or water performance levels are exempt from the report requirements.
  • AB802 (2018) – AB802 requires all buildings over 50,000 sf, 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 benchmarking requirements.
  • SB100 (100 Percent Clean Energy Act, 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 strategies to achieve further GHG emissions reductions.