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Past Climate and Sustainability Town Halls

Hydrogen Energy, December 5, 2022

This all-campus town hall aimed to address the campus community on the role of hydrogen in decarbonization and the research and operational developments associated with it.

We answered and categorized the questions posed during registration and through the Zoom Q&A feature below.

UC San Diego Demonstration Project

How do you respond to the objections to using hydrogen blending and its use in comfort heating?

The draft resolution linked here demonstrates that the AMA is potentially interested in publishing a statement against hydrogen blending, specifically with fossil-fuel derived hydrogen. Hydrogen can be made from several feedstocks and technological processes. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, the Federal Government has created a national definition for “clean hydrogen” that takes a feedstock-neutral and technology-neutral approach. Clean hydrogen is defined as: “hydrogen produced with a carbon intensity equal to or less than 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide-equivalent produced at the site of production per kilogram of hydrogen produced.” This definition makes sense since the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions, not target any one process or industry. The proposed US San Diego hydrogen blending pilot will utilize electrolytic hydrogen, meaning the hydrogen feedstock will be water.

What size (in MW) of electrolysis capacity is planned for the UC San Diego project?

The design has not been finalized yet.

Is UC San Diego/SDG&E working with any industry/company for the electrolyzer development?

The design is still in the planning stages. Equipment and respective industry partnerships have not been determined yet.

SDG&E's NetZero report argues that, "Where electrification is not feasible, clean fuels such as renewable natural gas and hydrogen provide a viable approach to decarbonization,” and references a Rocky Mountain Institute study for this. The RMI does not support this and the RMI study states, "But now, we have the opportunity to meet nearly all our buildings’ energy needs with electricity from an increasingly low-carbon electric grid, eliminating direct fossil fuel use in buildings and making obsolete much of the gas distribution system—along with its costs and safety challenges." This and many other studies show that blending hydrogen for buildings is a bad idea, so why is SDG&E doing this?

For many reasons, full electrification may not be 100% feasible for all buildings and for other customers on the natural gas system, such as industry and power generation, it will not be feasible (as reflected in the RMI report). The gas system serves many customers, from residential buildings to power plants and factories that require fuels for high-heat applications, such as metal working, steel making, cement mixing and glass making. 

Clean fuels, such as hydrogen and renewable natural gas, can help lower the carbon intensity of the entire gas system. A recently passed law, SB 1075, requires California state agencies to consider green hydrogen in their decarbonization strategies. The main purpose of the SDG&E pilot is to help inform the California Public Utilities Commission on how much hydrogen is safe to inject in the state’s gas system.

Fuel Cells and Hydrogen

On slide 16, Nguyen lists natural gas and coal gas as “sustainable fuels” for SOC fuel cells. How are these fuels sustainable?

Coal gas and natural gas were listed as suitable fuels for SOC (not sustainable fuels).

What is a "PEM" fuel cell?

PEM stands for proton exchange membrane. A PEM fuel cell is a type of fuel cell based on polymer electrolyte. It operates at around 80°C.

Hydrogen Sources

A key point is the use of renewable sources to generate the hydrogen energy source. What are the ratios and efficiencies?

In 2021, renewable energy sources accounted for about 19.8% of total utility-scale electricity generation. For hydrogen production by electrolysis of water, the conversion efficiency of alkaline electrolysis (which is a mature technology for large systems) and proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers (which are more flexible and can be used for small, decentralized solutions) is about 65-79% (low heating value). High-temperature electrolyzers are currently under development and could represent a very efficient alternative (to alkaline and PEM systems) with efficiencies up to 90%.

About 95% of the hydrogen energy that is produced right now comes from natural gas. Are there any plans to allow for hydrogen energy to be generated from other sources?

Splitting water is the main approach being developed for clean hydrogen production.

There are two main ways to get hydrogen. Reform methane in which case the CO2 must be sequestered. Hydrolyze water in which case the cost of electrons must be very low. Will CO2 sequestration and/or ultra-low-cost electrons ever make hydrogen possible economically? If so, when?

One of the most significant barriers to widespread deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies and production of clean hydrogen by electrolysis of water is the high cost of the technologies. The U.S. Department of Energy has been supporting various research and development work to reduce cost, improve efficiency and increase reliability. Based on advancements in materials/processes, designs, manufacturing and operation, many techno-economic assessments have indicated that it is possible to make clean hydrogen economically. The Department of Energy has the target of advanced cost-competitive CCS technologies available for broad commercial-scale deployment in 2030 and the target of $1/kg hydrogen also by 2030.


Most of these presentations did not mention cost of green hydrogen for combustion or in fuel cells vs. electrification and battery storage. In what use cases is green hydrogen combustion more economical than electrification?

Today, clean hydrogen is expensive, but we are only at the beginning of using hydrogen as an energy source. Just as solar and lithium-ion batteries were once very expensive, we expect clean hydrogen costs to decrease. The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal for clean hydrogen production costs to drop 80% in the next decade to $1/kilogram. Clean energy technology costs tend to fall over time due to technology investment, deployment, scale and market maturation. The 10-year federal clean hydrogen Production Tax Credit will also help.

In terms of energy storage costs, if energy needs to be stored for over 14 hours, that is generally considered the “breakeven point” after which, clean hydrogen becomes a more cost-effective energy storage option than batteries, even today.

What is the actual cost of production compared to other types of energy?

The cost of hydrogen production by steam methane reforming is about $1.2/kg hydrogen without carbon capture. With 85% carbon capture, the cost is doubled, about $2.4/kg hydrogen. The Department of Energy goal is $1/kg hydrogen without CO2 emissions by 2030.

Efficiency/Losses of Hydrogen Systems

Due to its high diffusivity and high containment pressure, some estimates place the fraction of fuel hydrogen that may escape into the atmosphere ranging from 1% to 20% of production. Atmospheric chemists have concerns regarding the risk that if mankind transitions to a hydrogen economy, the high reactivity of escaped hydrogen may significantly reduce the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere. This would lengthen the atmospheric lifetimes of a range of other pollutants and greenhouse gases, including methane. Have the advocates of this transition for our campus considered this aspect of the problem?

Hydrogen leakage is a concern and needs to be studied further so that we can learn how to effectively monitor and prevent hydrogen from escaping into the atmosphere.

An expected 20% energy loss is associated with transporting hydrogen. For this technology to be effective, it must be produced locally to minimize energy loss. How are hydrogen transportation issues being addressed?

The most cost-effective hydrogen transport solution depends upon the scale of production and the distance it needs to be transported. Hydrogen can be transported with minimal losses using a compound, such as ammonia or a liquid organic hydrogen carrier; however, this can lose large amounts of energy efficiency when hydrogen is converted to and from the compound.

Boil-off losses associated with hydrogen energy can be as high as 50%. What is being done to address this loss?

NASA and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have conducted recent research on minimization methods for boil-off losses in storage and handling respectively. In 2017, using a method called Integrated Refrigeration and Storage, NASA cryogenic engineers demonstrated the capability to maintain liquid hydrogen in a zero boil-off state for indefinite time periods. Factors to consider during handling to mitigate boil-off losses include type of fill, matching demand with minimal idling and complementary supporting equipment, such as compressors or fuel cells.


Hydrogen’s Role in Decarbonization

Is the hydrogen system compatible with the current infrastructure technology?

Infrastructure includes pipelines, liquefaction plants, trucks, storage facilities, compressors and dispensers involved in the delivery of hydrogen. Delivery technology for hydrogen infrastructure is currently available. Growth in hydrogen demand will require expansion of this infrastructure and development of new deployments.

Some opinions state that the fossil fuel industry strongly supports hydrogen energy because energy will be needed to produce hydrogen. Can you comment on this view and how this can be addressed?

Many traditional oil and gas companies are supportive of the hydrogen economy because hydrogen gas can be created via SMR (steam methane reformation) with coal gas or natural gas as a feedstock. That is how most hydrogen gas (>98%) is made today.  In many U.S. states, hydrogen will likely continue to be created via SMR, in combination with carbon sequestration to reduce the carbon intensity of the process.

However, and importantly, this is very unlikely to happen in California because hydrogen made from fossil fuels will not qualify towards the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard or Low Carbon Fuel Standard and therefore will not be used for grid power or transportation. It is likely that most hydrogen in California will be produced from renewable energy via electrolysis.

Water, October 25, 2022

Water Action Plan

The University of California is committed to achieving sustainable water systems. UC San Diego has demonstrated leadership in water conservation and water quality protection by implementing successful strategies, such as using recycled water instead of potable water for our Central Utility Plant cooling towers and irrigation in many parts of campus; installing efficient irrigation systems; capturing water for reuse; replacing turf with drought tolerant landscaping; and installing storm water treatment features throughout campus to improve water quality and protect downstream waterways.

This all-campus town hall addressed the campus community on UC San Diego’s water systems and highlight past, current and potential future actions to conserve water and protect water quality. It included an update on the campus strategicenergy plan.

We answered and categorized the questions posed during registration and through the Zoom Q&A feature below.

Recycled Water

Is it necessary to separate "recycled" water instead of having one water source that includes it?

A: Yes, it is necessary. Recycled water, though it has been treated for pathogens, is not potable (cannot drink it) because it contains high levels of chlorine and other salts. There is also a very small chance that some pathogens could have survived the treatment process. A single source sharing potable and recycled water is not currently an option; however, San Diego water districts are working on a water purification project that will add a fourth stage of treatment that will allow recycled water to be placed into our drinking water reservoirs. The project is called Pure Water San Diego.

What limits the percentage of recycled water in use for cooling at the Central Utilities Plant? Can the cooling towers be upgraded to 100% recycled water?

The quality of the water that cycles through our cooling towers is important because it removes heat from the refrigerant in our chillers through thousands of tubes that can be adversely affected by exposure to salts, chlorines, higher pH, off gasses and ammonia. All of these can be aggressive towards yellow metal and can lead to leaks, performance issues and system shutdown. Recycled water typically is higher in salt content and chlorine, which is why we have limited the percentage of recycled water to about 65%. Technicians closely monitor and manage the percentage of recycled water to avoid damage and ensure chiller efficiency.

Industrial Water

What is being done to monitor that cool water is being sent, especially during peak usage times? I believe there have been issues with hot water being received when cool water was expected.

The September 2022 heat wave significantly exceeded the plant’s cooling capacity. We experienced a historic intensity and duration of heat. We saw 2026 predicted demands for chilled water. We are implementing short- and long-term solutions to address this. For the long term, you can visit Revelle College to see the construction related to our Central Utilities Plant expansion. Upon completion, we will have four additional chillers that will increase our capacity that will ensure our ability to meet the increased peak chilled water demand that we saw in summer 2022 for several days. In the short term, we're preparing for next summer so that we can avoid some of those peak time issues. We are adding extra pumping capacity and planning to further reduce load in additional non-critical, non-complex campus spaces.


Are we tracking how much greywater the campus uses and where does the greywater go?

We don’t meter and track how much wastewater (grey and/or black) that leaves our buildings. All wastewater goes to Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and is then discharged to the ocean.

Regarding auto-flushing toilets that flush multiple times after use, have we considered a different type of toilet (incinerator/dry) to conserve more water? Some campus toilets don't have enough pressure and require multiple flushes, how can this be resolved?

Many issues can cause toilet malfunctions. Toilet issues in core-funded spaces can be reported to the Work Services Center at (858) 534-2930 or Minimal water is necessary to maintain sanitation in our highly used buildings. Watch for a Green Building Town Hall (likely in Spring 2023) where we will be talking in detail about the great work we're doing in our buildings from concept to operation, including plumbing.

Climate Adaptation

What type of water-related climate adaptation planning or projects are needed considering the challenges of our changing climate?

From a planning perspective, the campus is currently looking at updating its climate action plan to incorporate the changes that we need to make and the protections that we need to put in place structurally for changes, specifically at Scripps Institution of Oceanography where we may see increases in storm charges, waves and torrential rainfall to ensure that our facilities are protected. From a design standards perspective, we ensure that all new developments on campus can handle those storm changes. Taking the higher intensity storms into consideration, we can put more features around new buildings so that storm water can be retained to reduce downstream flooding.

Will Southern California run out of water? I am interested in the possibility of new desalination plants and their role in diversifying our water supply.

Pure Water San Diego is the City of San Diego's phased, multi-year program that will provide nearly half of San Diego's water supply locally by the end of 2035. The Pure Water San Diego Program will use proven water purification technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality drinking water. The Program offers a cost-effective investment for San Diego's water needs and will provide a reliable, sustainable water supply.” (from The City of San Diego website). The City of San Diego purchases water through the San Diego County Water Authority, which completed the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in 2015. There are currently no plans to design and construct more desalination plants in San Diego County.

Center for Weather and Water Extremes

How are the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes observations and atmospheric river research utilized outside of Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO)?

We have a network of observations and FIRO is just one thing that we do with them. We fly planes and collect data from those observations as well for managing our reservoirs. All of that translates well into flood risk mitigation. We have a team of modelers and forecasters that are examining these storms. We're also looking at how to model long-term, water-related infrastructure planning. We are using climate projections that accurately represent appropriate atmosphere conditions and other major storms.

Does the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes offer internships for undergrads?

A: Yes, we have a well-defined summer internship program. Typically, interns will be assigned to CW3E mentors while working on a variety of projects related to water resources, such as field trips to measure water flow to working with hydrologic modelers and studying some of the observations. Some other opportunities for student workers may be available throughout the year. Interested students should contact CW3E.

Strategic Energy Plan, May 31, 2022

In support of the climate neutrality goals, the University of California is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy use and switching to clean energy supplies. UC San Diego has built one of the world’s the most advanced microgrids, which is key to creating a carbon neutral campus. The microgrid provides a flexible, resilient, reliable, secure energy distribution system that is capable of generating approximately 85% of the electricity used on campus annually. Power is provided from several sources the campus’ 30-megawatt cogeneration plant, 2.8-megawatt energy fuel cell and 2.4 megawatts of solar arrays. The microgrid also has 2.5 MW/5 MWH of Battery Energy Storage and 8 million gallons of Thermal Energy Storage.

We answered many of the questions posed during registration and through the Zoom Q&A feature below. Note: We consolidated similar questions to provide comprehensive answers.

Emissions and Energy Consumption

How can you call keeping emissions/consumption “flat” (modulo COVID of 2020 and 2021) an “accomplishment” when the international consensus, California’s own goals such as SB100 are to cut emissions by about 50% by 2030 from 2010 levels?

Maintaining a flat/decreasing emissions footprint during this period of rapid campus growth with requirements of increased ventilation during COVID-19 is notable and has been achieved due to the various energy efficiency projects and measures that have been implemented. Yet, we recognize the need to cut emissions further. SB100 sets a goal for renewable electricity and allows for the use of biogas as an emission reduction. As part of our current strategy, biogas could potentially reduce scope 1 emissions by 40%, which would supplement our current solar photovoltaic onsite and any other technology we may employ, such as concentrate solar thermal or deep geothermal.

What was UCSD's gross energy use annually vs. generation for 2021?

UC San Diego generates on average 80% of its electricity needs.

What are the top five sources of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to UCSD?

The top five sources of greenhouse gas emissions are from the cogeneration plant gas turbines and boilers, commuters, air travel and fleet fuel use.

What are UC(SD) plans and actions to verifiably reduce greenhouse gases emissions? Why are retirement plan options that exclude fossil fuel investments not clearly advertised? Why are fossil fuel funding sources not yet disclosed? It is well known that such funding corrupts research, c.f. funding from the Tobacco industry.

UC San Diego, along with all the UC campuses, go through a third-party verification process for greenhouse gas reporting. UC Investments uses a Sustainable Investment Framework and specific sustainability language with the overall investment policy that references that framework. UC Investment Office manages the stranded asset risks associated with thermal coal, oil and gas by not investing (pdf) in companies that own any amount of fossil fuel reserves (unless such companies are held in commingled accounts).

How can UC San Diego keep justifying making 10 to 20 million dollars of payments per year to fossil fuel companies, such as SDG&E/Sempra, which just increases the economic and political power of those companies (Sempra is massively increasing fossil extraction from Permian basin) and perpetuates environmental injustice by poisoning communities at the frontlines of extraction and also damages the biosphere permanently by increasing greenhouse gases?

Environmental and social justice issues are important when considering climate action planning and projects to implement. Recently approved language for the UC Sustainable Practices Policy will require that climate justice be considered in future planning and projects.

UC San Diego claims to be a leader in climate action but campus greenhouse gas emissions have not gone down in the past decade. As a system, UC is still emitting ~1 million tons of CO2 every year from burning fossil gas for electricity generation and for heating/cooling. To be a real leader, the UC must drop the inadequate promise of carbon offsets and make a plan for decarbonization now. What is UCSD's plan to lead the effort for UC-wide decarbonization?

UC San Diego has prioritized direction action to reduce energy use and keep carbon emissions from increasing during a tremendous period of growth. In addition to tangible projects, such as energy retrofits and operational optimization projects, the campus leads in other ways. For instance, the current Global Leadership Council Chair is UC San Diego faculty member Fonna Forman, Energy Services Governing Board and Sustainable Steering Committee member is Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews, and the Systemwide Climate Change Working Group and Energy Technical Committee includes various UC San Diego staff.

Scope 3 Emissions

With current infrastructure, what portion of cars could be offset by people switching to electric vehicles, trolley, bus, bike, etc.? What can we do to increase the number of people choosing one of these options rather than driving personal combustion cars?

Increasing average vehicle occupancy is one of the lowest cost ways to reduce emissions, vehicle miles traveled and infrastructure costs. Increasing carpooling is part of the equation, as is encouraging transit ridership; the empty seats already arriving on campus each day in personal vehicles is an underutilized resource. Through Triton Commuter Club, UC San Diego is incentivizing these shared transportation choices. Regional investment in and improvements to transit service quality (speed, reliability and routing improvements) will make riding significantly more attractive. We collaborate closely with MTS on these issues and are leading signal improvements on and off campus that will help

UC San Diego community members can benefit from different EV Incentives.

When will the university again arrange discounts for students, faculty and staff on the purchase or lease of a new or used electric vehicle?  

We are waiting for the supply demand imbalance to correct. For those who were with the University five or six years ago, we went out to a variety of different suppliers of electric vehicles, and they basically gave us below fleet prices for individuals, including students, faculty and staff. Some of the prices were so low, such as $80/month. The chips shortage that is well known, as well as the reduction of manufacturing supply and the tremendous new increase in petroleum products have put the EV manufacturers in position where they can sell a vehicle over list price. Many people anticipate that by the end of this year, the beginning of next year will be when the supply demand imbalance levels itself. 

Do the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego research fleet vessels count as part of the "vehicle fleet?" What is UC San Diego specifically doing to support emission reductions from the research fleet?

The vehicle fleet that is tracked for greenhouse gas emissions reporting does not include the research fleet vessels. Consistent with other UC campuses, UC San Diego only reports on vehicles managed by UC San Diego Fleet Services.


Is biogas green?

Yes, its use emits greenhouses gases that would ultimately end up in the atmosphere (non-anthropogenic).  The biogas UC has secured was previously being flared.  By capturing it and injecting it into the pipeline, it displaces fossil fuel natural gas.

According to the California Energy Commission: “Biomethane is a renewable natural gas produced from decaying organic matter such as wastewater treatment sludge, food waste, animal manures, landfill gas, dead trees, and municipal solid waste through a process called anaerobic digestion.”

What is preventing us from going higher than 40% RNG and switching to renewable natural gas, increasing percentage external electricity (from 100% renewable sources)? What about the external grid would have to change to make it reliable enough?

Biogas volumes are limited by supply available.

Cogeneration Plant Plans

What are the plans and timeline to retire the cogeneration plant, move away from natural gas use and move towards electrification of campus heating and cooling? Is it possible to retire the cogeneration plant early?

The early and necessary steps we need to take to decarbonize are already happening; these include in-depth studies and preliminary feasibility analyses. We are exploring all possible technologies, with heat recovery chillers being examined first. The initial review determined that heat recovery chilling could only provide about 60% of our high-temperature thermal needs, without the resiliency of self-generation at the Central Utilities Plant.

We continue to explore other potential technologies, including hydrogen, concentrated solar thermal, deep geothermal and others that could align with the thermal demands of our campus. Once we determine a technically, financially and operationally feasible strategy, we can assess different timelines, including one that is accelerated to recognize the resources that would be necessary to achieve it. If financing were not an issue, plans to retire the cogen plan sooner could be evaluated.

What is the projected cost estimate for retiring the cogeneration plant in favor of distributed heating systems? In the interim, have there been any thoughts on capturing the CO2 from the cogeneration plant's flue gas for sale or use on campus?

Costs for transitioning from cogeneration (electricity and thermal energy for heating hot water) to distributed heating systems that rely on 100% imported power are estimated to increase energy costs by tens of millions of dollars per year. This does not consider the additional intensive thermal energy needed processes for research, such as sterilization.


I understand that high-temperature water uses a ridiculous amount of electricity. What about using passive solar with thermal concentration?

High-temperature water (HTW) can be created with the use of equipment called heat exchangers that allow the transfer of energy, in our case, from steam to water. At UC San Diego, we currently do not use electricity to generate HTW. We recover waste heat from gas turbine exhaust gases during electricity generation, deeming it a cogeneration cycle. Steam could be generated in other ways, including natural gas boilers, electric boilers and concentrated solar photovoltaic. We will study concentrated solar thermal with assistance from Professor Coimbra. It has the potential to offer a better a solution than heat recovery chilling or rooftop PV.

I'm thrilled that UCSD has such a large investment in solar at 2.4 MW of capacity. Are there any plans to expand solar on campus and take advantage of the many rooftops that do not yet have panels? What prohibits the changeover to 100% solar?

UC San Diego currently has a 2.4-megawatt solar network that includes an array of rooftop, carport and ground mounted systems, including several integrated with advanced energy systems. However, we have not utilized all rooftop spaces. UC San Diego performed detailed analyses in 2019 for potential additional rooftop systems, reviewing many criteria including roof age, condition, structural integrity and shading from trees and adjacent structures. The university continually analyzes the economic viability of adding new solar and its necessary energy storage. It’s important to remember that institutional solar is not the same as residential solar, especially given our intense healthcare and research needs for stable, reliable energy that never shuts off. It’s more cost effective to meet electricity needs either through our cogeneration plant or through purchases via the UC Wholesale Power Program, which is currently green and on track to be carbon-free, rather than installing more rooftop solar. However, we plan to revisit our evaluations this year to ensure analyses are still relevant.


Does UCSD have the will and expertise to experimentally develop Thorium reactors until ongoing research on fusion reactors pans out?

Given the sensitivity and multiple things that would be needed to consider related to nuclear power, we recognize the great advancement in micro-reactors. They supply the high-density heat the campus requires. However, the industry would need to research and develop the technology more thoroughly before UC San Diego would engage.


Earlier, it was stated that the natural gas cogeneration plant allowed better campus-level local resiliency to still support running research/medical buildings during emergency/critical situations, allowing "islanding" and supply to SDG&E. Since the cogeneration plant will be retired in 2032 and it seems unclear what the local replacement plant/systems will be (biogas + ???), how much local resiliency will be lost? What should researchers/medical staff be aware of in future planning? With the Regents' push for use of electric heat and equipment to the maximum extent possible in our new projects, how do you anticipate our microgrid, and the San Diego grid in general, will handle the increased electrical demand? Can the existing/projected diesel emergency generators carry the load?

If the cogeneration units are retired, we would be reliant on the SDG&E grid. UC San Diego has 2.5 MW/5 MWh Advanced Energy Storage to aid in peak shaving and may also assist in an emergency by discharging about 5% of our total campus peak load. Existing diesel generators only serve emergency/life safety loads, which account for only 31% of our total campus peak load. Beyond the battery and emergency diesel generators, resiliency would be lost.

Carbon Offsets

Can you please elaborate on the necessity of relying on carbon offsets to reach the 2025 carbon neutrality goal and how UCSD will transition away from using them? Does the group believe that carbon offsets count as actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? A profound injustice is that UCSD continues to pay significant monies to the fossil companies that are bent on continuing the extraction of fossil fuels, which harm marginalized communities the most. By continuing to pay them ("because we bought offsets!"), UCSD is buttressing their political and economic power. This is the logic behind the idea that one ton of CO2 prevented in Darfur via offsets is not the same as one ton prevented here by decarbonization. True justice would be to go carbon free.

UC San Diego, along with all ten UC campuses, remains committed to the carbon neutrality goal of scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by 2025. We follow the approach, as outlined in the UC Sustainable Practices Policy that direct action towards carbon reduction should be prioritized with carbon offsets being a transitional approach. To the ends of meeting the 2025 goal and policy, carbon offsets represent a part of our strategy until we can determine the best path forward for decarbonization. For the existing campus greenhouse gas emissions, we continue to evaluate all decarbonization technologies to continue to find the best solution to serve the campuses 24/7/365 needs for resilient and high-density energy needs¾that are also efficient and cost effective.

In the meantime, UC has set forth a path for procuring high quality offsets. High-quality offsets represent real, additional, quantifiable, durable and enforceable emissions reduction or carbon removal off-site, that have undergone third-party verification—PLUS an additional rigorous UC screening per UC Policy. A systemwide Offset Technical Committee has been charged with providing recommendations for the purchasing process, a process in which is transparent, fiscally responsible, scalable, integrates DEIJ, leverages internal expertise of students and faculty and provide opportunities to learn, iterate and continually improve. UC initiated offset projects; those that are directly tied to UC research or campus are given priority. Given all of this, the approach of meeting our goals can and should change as we deem other decarbonation strategies appropriate and feasible.

Building Design/Operation

Many campus buildings do not have openable windows, despite the mild San Diego climate, the known health benefits of natural ventilation and the high energy draw of air handling systems. What is being done to re-envision the architectural design of campus dorms, classrooms, meeting spaces and offices to take advantage of the mild climate and to reduce energy use?

Most of the campus energy use occurs in the laboratory research and clinical medical facilities. Due to safety regulations, airflow rates are strictly managed in these buildings and UC San Diego has been a leader in the efficient design and operation of these systems. Over $100M in energy efficiency retrofits have been executed since 2009 to optimize airflow and temperature control in older campus lab buildings and provide energy efficient strategies, like CO2 control and occupancy sensing, for non-critical spaces.

UC San Diego’s location in mild-temperate southern California affords us other unique sustainable operation opportunities at which our campus also excels. Below are some examples, but more can be found at 2021 UC San Diego Annual Sustainability Report.

  • Economizer Mode for air-handling systems that are designed for recirculated air (non-lab) allows system to draw in as much outdoor air into the system to meet thermal demands.
  • Daylighting provides as much natural light in occupied spaces.
  • Activating open outdoor spaces that our community can work, learn, and socialize in, reduces energy needed for lighting, comfort heating and cooling while people are outdoors. Activating our open space around campus also increases health and well-being for our community members.


Can timers be used for lighting to conserve energy? What is the plan for LED retrofits?

A variety of lighting controls exist around campus, depending on the year the building was built and subsequent lighting upgrades. These include schedules, occupancy sensors and manual switches. Occupancy sensors are preferable to timers because they only use light when an occupant is present. Retrofitting facilities to LED technology has been prioritized in buildings based on economic payback and/or as lighting technology has reached end of life.

Health System

What are specific goals and plans to help the Health System and other camps partners to meet these requirements?

Achieving our sustainability goals takes the collective effort of everyone at UC San Diego. Staff, students and faculty from across many areas are working collaboratively to develop solutions and elevate initiatives for a more sustainable campus. For the upcoming year, goals include increasing communication about strategic energy, water and climate programs with the campus community and our campus partners and improving our online dashboards for energy, water and greenhouse gases. The communications plan launched on May 31, 2022 with a campus-wide town hall focusing on the strategic energy plan, with follow-up town halls planned. Focused follow-up meetings will also be held to give the campus community an opportunity to have detailed discussions and participation in those areas.

Clean Power Program

What exactly does "Obtain 100% clean electricity" mean considering that the plan continues to include burning methane on site? Does this mean that external electricity will come from renewables, while internal electricity (72% of total) will continue to rely on methane?

For our imported power needs, the campus has a variety of certified/verified sources of clean and renewable electricity. These include UC Clean Power Program direct access power purchasing options, power purchase agreements (PPAs) for electricity generated on and off site, and equivalent products that bundle physical electricity with the right to claim its renewable energy attributes. Our baseload electrical power needs are met onsite through the cogeneration plant and is supplemented by our fuel cell and solar photovoltaic.

Is the shift to 100% clean electricity due to the switch from SDG&E to San Diego Community Power?

The shift to 100% clean power is a part of a commitment that UC has made to provide to campuses that want to participate in the UC Clean Power Program, managed by the UC Energy Service Group and overseen by the UC Energy Governing Board.

Individual Actions

In addition to turning off lights, what else can we do on a daily basis, at work and at home, to do our part? Our suite of Green Programs offers information about how to get your office, lab or classroom certified, and tips for what you can do to become more sustainable by implementing better practices. There is a lot that can be done to be more efficient, save money and help reduce your overall environmental footprint. The Green Residence program self-assessment allows you to evaluate your current practices and gives you a score upon completion. What impact, if any, has staff working from home had on our energy consumption? 

Our energy savings on campus have been minimal, around 3%, and the reason is twofold. First, the majority of our energy consumption on campus is a direct result of ongoing research which is at approximately 70% and was maintained throughout the pandemic. And second, to enhance building safety due to the pandemic, we adjusted our building ventilation systems by increasing outside air flow and maximizing fan speeds to maximize the dilution of any airborne contaminants and reduce the possible transmission of the virus. The combined result of these two actions have offset the energy savings that we were able to realize by having the majority of campus employees and students working and learning remotely.