Colleges and universities in the United States are taking the lead on renewable energy, according to a recent report by Environment America and the Frontier Group. In the document, researchers observe these schools are setting a strong example for the nation as a whole to follow.
Colleges and universities take the lead
According to the “America’s Top Colleges for Renewable Energy 2020” report, of 127 universities in the country, 42 now obtain 100% or more of their electricity from renewable energy sources.
In that regard, schools’ campuses are supplying their electricity needs with clean power through own-generation systems, power purchase agreements (PPAs), or renewable energy certificates (RECs).
Other 76 colleges across the country are getting at least half of their electricity from renewable sources.
Campuses researched are also seizing opportunities regarding renewable sources for their transportation systems.
Therefore, the report includes a top-ten for electric vehicles (EV) use in schools. Researchers observe all the colleges included in this particular ranking have switched over 60 percent of their campus-owned cars to EVs.
The report signals the importance of colleges for the energy transition. “Colleges are largely energy users and are well suited to employ microgrids and distinct heating and cooling systems that expand the potential uses for renewable energy,” the document adds.
In that sense, researchers observe that enhancing sustainable and clean alternatives in schools can attract potential and talented students. For instance, more than 3,000 Princeton University applicants in 2020 said they applied because of the school’s energy use commitments.
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., leads all schools in renewable energy generation. Georgetown generates and purchases 130% of its electricity from renewable sources.
In the top ten, there are two New York schools (Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ithaca College), two Massachusetts colleges (Emerson College and Bentley University), and Maine, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Montana universities.
These ten schools obtain 100% or more of their electricity from renewable sources. According to the report, there may be changes in electricity use relative to the universities’ and colleges’ contract amounts.
Some schools buy renewable electricity to cover emissions from electric grid losses or their domestic supply chain. Other schools may purchase cleaner energy alternatives through long-term contracts, anticipating their campuses’ growth.
Regarding electric vehicles use, among some colleges transitioning their transportation systems toward EVs are: Ringling College of Art and Design (Florida), University of the Pacific (California), Rice University (Texas), Harvey Mudd College (California), and Loyola Marymount University (California).
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Besides, leading campuses are not just switching to cleaner power. Schools are also replacing heating, cooling, and hot water systems, with others that run on renewable energy such as solar, thermal, or geothermal heat pumps.
The relevance of this transition increases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the study signals. Higher education institutions will need to continue these pioneering steps through their leadership and actions in a post-pandemic scenario.
Universities and colleges have both the opportunity and responsibility to enhance renewable energies opportunities since knowledge fosters their classrooms.