Thus far, much of our coverage of the 100% renewable energy movement has focused on cities, states, and countries. However, top universities around the world are also striving to reach net-zero emissions with the power of the sun and wind.
In Providence, Rhode Island, the prestigious Ivy League institution of Brown University launched two renewable energy projects to offset the school’s greenhouse gas emissions. Brown is collaborating with Energy Development Partners in Providence to generate the largest solar generation project in the state. An old gravel pit in North Kingstown will be transformed into a 240-acre solar field to make this 50-MW project a reality.
The other project involves installing an eight-megawatt wind energy center in Texas, of all places. Texas is obviously a long way from Rhode Island, but Texas has something that Rhode Island doesn’t: lots of wide open spaces. This is a great example of how you can overcome geographical limitations to fight climate change close to home.
With these two projects combined, the university believes it can offset 100% of its energy use with reusable sources. To do so, the university plans to retire project-specific renewable energy credits that will allow the school to claim its own renewable energy successes. Brown’s current goal is to reduce the campus’ greenhouse gas emissions to 75% below the 2018 level by 2025 and then cut out all fossil fuels for heating and cooling by 2040.
With leaders like Governor Gina Raimondo at the helm, Rhode Island is charging ahead in their efforts to address climate change. On the renewable energy front Raimondo helped shepherd through America’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island, launched full-scale solar and wind power markets and a robust C-PACE program. A big part of the push here has been to create 1,000 clean energy projects and 20,000 clean energy jobs to propel local economic growth.
Yet the Brown renewable energy project is unique not only because it’s being led by a higher education institution, but also because its energy-saving measures are the largest in the state and taking place off-campus. Environment America, a leading voice in 100% renewable campaigns on university campuses, is working with at least 50 campuses in 10 states, including the University of Massachusetts and the University of California. As major energy users, forward-thinking college campuses are installing solar panels on their own buildings, installing onsite wind turbines to provide more electricity than a school even needs, and replacing coal-fired boilers with geothermal heating systems that are emissions-free. Other things that universities can do to embrace the renewable energy movement include implementing bicycling incentive programs for students and having resident halls engage in fun competitions aimed at reducing energy use.
Brown University’s plan is now in the hands of state utility regulators, so there haven’t been any big announcements about start dates or estimated completion dates yet. Brown already cranks out top leaders from its degree programs, and now it’s time for the university to become a renewable energy leader for other campuses to learn from.