How does the University of Michigan generate energy?

Have you ever wondered how the University of Michigan builds a force to last lights after hours? The University receives its electricity through on-campus generation and local utility providers such as DTE and Energy consumers. However, this process is undergoing change as the university moves towards carbon neutrality 2050 year.

To achieve this goal, the university has set itself several tasks. University separates its emissions into three main categories — Scope 1, which includes emissions from electricity produced on campus; Scope 2, which includes emissions from purchased electricity; and Scope 3, which includes indirect emissions from university-funded activities such as commuting. On the basis of Art The university’s plan for carbon neutralitythe university aims to eliminate Scope 3 emissions and offset Scope 2 emissions by 2025 and eliminate Scope 1 emissions by 2040 to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2050.

However, the question remains: How will the university achieve these goals? Here’s a look at how electricity is used on the Ann Arbor campus. The Flint and Dearborn campuses follow the same climate goals but were not included in this article.

How electricity is currently generated

According to Drew Horning, special advisor to the president on carbon neutrality and managing director, the university currently gets about 60% of its electricity from purchased sources, with the remaining 40% coming from on-campus generation. Graham Institute for Sustainable Development, in an interview with The Michigan Daily. The bulk of the electricity generated on campus comes from Central power plant (CPP), located near the Hill neighborhood.

While walking around the CPP site, plant manager Malcolm Bambling spoke to The Daily about the plant’s focus on reliability and said the university generating its own power ensures they are not completely dependent on private utilities. Bamling also described a network of underground tunnels through the campus used to transport electricity, steam and hot water. Burying the cables, Bambling explained, helps protect them from the elements and is therefore more reliable.

He graduated from university in January expansion CPP, which added a 15 megawatt turbine and replaced the transformers with new ones a ring a design that allows electricity to remain operational even if one transformer fails.

Horning said that while the expansion was in the works before the university set its carbon neutrality goals, the upgrade still helps reduce carbon emissions in line with their goals.

“Regarding v network mix, (CPP) is a lot cleaner,” Horning said. “It is a combined heat and power plant… the waste heat in the combined heat and power plant is captured and moved through steam tunnels into buildings throughout the central campus. This was the rationale for both increasing the efficiency of our power system and the resilience of the power system that supports the medical facility as a backup in the event of a power outage.”

UM graduate Zakaria Farah, spokesperson Ann Arbor for state powersaid he viewed the expansion as a short-sighted project that failed to listen to community feedback.

“They should not have invested, in my opinion, more than $80 million in expansion of a methane-fired power plant,” Farah said. “They didn’t meet with the environmental students who were concerned about it, they just went ahead and said, ‘Well, technically this will reduce emissions because we’ll reduce our reliance on DTE.’

CPP currently relies on natural gas, a fossil fuel, to generate electricity and uses a combined cycle a process that can greatly increase efficiency over a simple steam generator. By improving energy efficiency, Horning said the university can continue to operate the plant for a longer period of time while maintaining low carbon emissions per kilowatt hour.

The rest of the electricity used by the university is obtained from external sources. All but a portion of North Campus power is currently out North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), procured from DTE. The central campus is partly powered by a central power plant and partly by purchased electricity.

Currently, the electricity purchased by the university is obtained from renewable and non-renewable sources. DTE’s energy mix consists of approx 9.58% renewable sources such as wind and solar energy. In 2021, the University named after announced it will generate 200 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year from wind farms operated by DTE, reducing annual carbon emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons. In 2022, the university emitted approximately 228,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from purchased electricity.

The university also plans to reduce its fleet of vehicles as a step towards reducing emissions Scope 3. Logistics, transport and parking purchased four electric buses that will be released during 2023.

How electricity will be generated in the future

To meet its primary goal of carbon neutrality through Scope 2 offsets by 2025, the University has issued request for proposals (RFP) to rely primarily on fully renewable sources 2025 year. According to the RFP, the Ann Arbor campus requires 125 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

The University’s carbon footprint is measured through Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Each REC is equivalent to one megawatt-hour of electricity. According to an email from Horning, the university purchased 150,000 RECs in 2022.

According to the request for proposals, the university estimated that they would need 159,500,000 kilowatt-hours per year to meet their annual electricity needs using either solar or wind energy. In the state of Michigan, solar power takes a long way less kilowatt hours of electricity per year because Michigan has fewer hours of daylight per day than places closer to the equator. However, compared to warmer climates, Michigan’s average temperature is lower – to which semiconductors, like solar panels, more efficient.

While solar is generally not as efficient in Michigan as it is in sunnier climates, the university plans to expand solar PV systems across campus in RFP will be released later this year.

Engineering senior Brendan Ireland, president of the Sierra Club, said he wants the university to incorporate more solar power into new construction.

“I think the university should build solar panels everywhere,” Ireland said. “They should be building things like solar panels on parking lots or solar panels on all their roofs.”

Another major source of energy described in the inquiry is wind power. The state of Michigan has an extensive coastline that provides perfect conditions for wind power that the university is used to to build wind farm in 2021.

The university itself has a separate contract from DTE, which obtained The Daily. The agreement calls for at least 40% of the campus’ electricity to be purchased from DTE with a capped rate of electricity generation per kilowatt hour. The agreement allows the university to determine the amount of electricity that comes from renewable energy sources.

Ireland said direct power is distributed throughout the power grid and therefore cannot be distributed to specific buildings on campus.

“(There are) renewable energy credits that you can buy and sell on the market that are abstracted,” Ireland said. “It’s not (straight up) ‘You’re buying the energy generated by this solar panel located here.’ Energy is generated, it’s filtered, and then you extract it with these credits.”

CPP also uses a combustion turbine that can run on different types of gas to produce electricity, including fuel oil and hydrogen. Hydrogen gas can be burned without producing carbon threw out and which have minimal risks during heating.

The university also converted the heating and cooling systems to Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building to clean energy, the rest of the building’s energy sources still come from fossil fuels. The building will be heated and cooled using a geo-exchange a system that will reduce the need for electricity for heating and cooling – similar to the steam tunnels at Central Campus. According to the Office for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 55% the energy consumed by the household went to heating and cooling. A similar geo-sharing system will be built at the new North Campus dormitory

Earlier this year, the university announced that $300 million would be committed green bonds — funds earmarked for green capital projects — such as the Leinweber Computer Science and Informatics Building.

The university has strives to build more geo-sharing sites on North Campus in the future as part of the North Campus Community Services Master Plan. According to Horning, the university plans to implement geo-sharing systems on Central Campus in the future, but currently faces challenges with land availability and difficulties in retrofitting existing buildings.

“Geosharing will play a role in our decarbonization strategy for Central Campus, and we are also monitoring the viability of new technologies,” Horning wrote to The Daily. “Ultimately, we hope our approach will serve as a road map for other institutions with similar challenges.”

Daily Staff reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at

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