Clean Energy

energy park

UC San Diego is committed to conserving energy in cooperation with statewide load-reduction initiatives and with UC standards. The campus generates about 85% of its own electricity using an ultra-clean and efficient cogeneration plant, the world’s largest commercial fuel cell, and solar panels.

UC San Diego’s Energy Innovation Park houses a 2.8-megawatt fuel cell, a high-efficiency, sun-tracking photovoltaic array, Compressed Natural Gas fueling station, and a chiller plant to provide cold water to the nearby Moores Cancer Center and Shiley Eye Center.

Clean Energy Production


The campus operates a 30-megawatt natural-gas-fired combined heat and power system that provides 85% of the campus’s annual electricity needs. The plant has received an Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star CHP Award for its high efficiency and low emissions. It helps the campus save $8 million per year in energy costs.

Cogeneration uses one fuel source (natural gas) to produce two forms of energy (electricity and heat). State-of–the-art gas turbines equipped with pollution controls are 45-50% more efficient than conventional natural gas power plants and produce 75% fewer emissions.

In addition to saving approximately $8 million per year in purchased utilities costs, cogeneration reduces:

  • Energy losses due to transmission and distribution of electricity over the statewide electrical grid
  • Reliance on out-of-state coal-burning power generation
  • Regional congestion on SDGE’s grid system


The university’s advanced microgrid generates approximately 92 percent of the electricity used on campus annually. See The Magic of the Microgrid.


The campus’ expanding 1.5-megawatt solar network includes conventional flat panels, sun-tracking and -concentrating photovoltaic panels, and a solar energy storage project. See Making Solar Power Generation More Predictable.

Fuel Cell

Our 2.8-megawatt fuel cell is the largest on any college campus. It provides about 8% of UC San Diego’s total energy needs, or the equivalent of powering 2,800 homes. The fuel cell turns waste methane gas from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant into electricity without combustion.


A 300-kilowatt solar water-heating system installed at North Campus Housing is one of the largest solar-thermal projects at a North American university.

Energy Efficiency

Smart Grid

Real-time energy monitoring is at the heart of UC San Diego's Smart Grid, a campuswide collection of complex yet efficient energy systems and tools that work in tandem with the national grid to integrate distributed energy resources. Our partnership with EDSA and Viridity Energy allows us to monitor and re-optimize our microgrid hourly to account for fluctuations in use, weather conditions and pricing. 

Building Retrofits

The campus is in the midst of a $73 million program to increase the energy efficiency of 25 of our older buildings, with a goal of lowering their combined energy consumption by at least $6 million a year. An estimated $14 million will come from utility company incentives and $59 million in low-interest bonds to be repaid with cost savings.

Other efforts include:

  • Over the past five years, 85% of linear fluorescent lighting has been retrofit with 25W T8 lamps, premium efficiency ballasts, and occupancy sensors.
  • In 2009, UC San Diego replaced 514 older computer servers with 270 new servers that perform the same functions but with half the energy consumption, saving $680,000 annually.

Green Building Standards

All new construction projects must meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Silver certification or better. This ensures that our structures maximize energy and water efficiency, help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and improve indoor environmental quality. More about Green Building

Energy Management

Our Central Utilities Plant control room manages the campus’ evolving microgrid, comprised of a cogeneration plant steam and chilled-water system, solar panels, and the fuel-cell. We’ve developed an Energy Dashboard to improve system efficiency and annually reduce:

  • Energy costs by $900,000
  • Consumption by 19 million kilowatt-hours
  • Greenhouse gas emissions by 9,600 metric tons

The campus 69 KV electrical substation converts electricity from 69KV to 12KV, which is charged at a much-lower rate. Our Thermal Energy Storage system stores 39,000 ton-hours of chilled water, which is cooled at night during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lower.

Controlling Building Systems

All major campus buildings are networked to a computerized Energy Management System (EMS) that centrally controls building mechanical systems based on occupancy. The EMS is programmed to reduce energy use in buildings during nights, weekends and holidays. Simply changing campuswide room temperature settings saves hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. The EMS also allows central plant operators to minimize energy consumption by monitoring and controlling heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment.

If you have suggestions for energy conservation, please contact Campus Energy Manager John Dilliott.

Weather Forecasting Stations

UC San Diego researchers and students have collaborated to design and install sophisticated network of wireless meteorological sensors to collect data on temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and solar radiation. We use this information to improve building efficiency, adjust irrigations systems, and identify locations for new solar panel installation. More about microclimates


Power-Purchase Agreements

UC San Diego signed a power-purchase agreement with Solar Power Partners to develop a 1.2-megawatt photovoltaic system. The agreement enables the university to take advantage of solar power without using any upfront cash. The campus’s 2.8-megawatt fuel-cell project utilized a similar agreement.

Energy Efficiency Partnership with statewide utilities, the public utilities commission, and the UC Office of the President has produced funding to improve:

  • Ventilation systems in high-energy-use buildings
  • Lighting retrofits
  • Enhanced building-performance monitoring and tuning
  • Building energy efficiency by converting and retrofitting heating systems, ventilation systems, controls, and duct work.

Clean Renewable Energy Bonds

The Internal Revenue Service allocated $154 million in bonds for financing renewable energy projects for public facilities under the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds program. UC San Diego will receive $15 million for 15 projects, including the addition of nearly 1 megawatt of solar power.

Private Investment

BioFuels Energy, a local firm, provided $11.35 million in cash investment, loans, and investment tax credits to finance our fuel cell project. Solar Power Partners provided investment capital for 1.2 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity on campus.


Smart-grid company Viridity Energy received a $1.66 million grant to develop a distributed energy optimization project at UC San Diego. Overall, the campus received $33 million in 2010 for research related to environmental sustainability.