PSU Master Energy Plan – Tab 4 of 2007 Draft

Thanks to Dave Stone for unearthing “Tab 4” of the Penn State Master Energy Plan 2007 draft, prepared by Wiley & Wilson and Worley Parsons Resources & Energy.

This 64-page document includes a thorough overview of energy consumption and production at the University Park campus in the mid-2000s. It also makes reference to a 1987 Plan and specifically a crucial piece of information about energy consumption changes between 1987 and 2005.

“…A major effort toward modernization and expansion has occurred since the 1987 Plan, and this has allowed the distribution system to accommodate growth from a peak demand of 28 MVA [million volt-amperes] at that time to a very recent peak of 58 MVA, which occurred in September 2005. This equates to about 4 percent annual growth in electric demand over this 18-year period, which is higher than typical during this period. Total UP Campus annual electrical energy usage has grown to 311,800 MWh for the 2004/2005 period, which includes 298,000MWh of purchased power and 13,800 MWh of power generated at the WCSP. Growth is mostly attributable to moderate levels of Campus expansion and significant levels of increased cooling of Campus buildings…”

Dave also located information about some of the consulting firms, which promote their firms by citing their Penn State work:

Here are a few of the slides distributed at the September 12, 2013 “Our Energy Future” forum:

Electric Consumption By Square Footage 1998 - 2013 Steam Use By Square Footage 1998 - 2013 GHG Reduction Strategies Thru 2020 GHG Reduction Strategies Beyond 2020

I thought Rob Cooper’s concluding statement at the September 12 forum was the most important segment of the entire presentation:

“…even this diverse approach of continued energy conservation mixed with carefully targeted renewables is likely to leave us short of our 2050 goal [of cutting emissions 80% below 1990 levels]. Technological breakthroughs will be needed for us to affordably maintain our current standard of living and satisfy our projected appetite for energy while simultaneously meeting our GHG emission reduction obligations. Perhaps Penn State faculty or students right here in this room will develop the breakthrough technology for Penn State to reach its 2050 GHG reduction goals.”

Taken together, the data about the increase in energy consumption between 1987 and 2005, and Rob’s accurate observation that “current standards of living” and “projected appetites for energy” appear incompatible with significant greenhouse gas reduction given today’s technologies both support the public’s need for more detailed information about Penn State’s projections about campus and enrollment growth trends over the next several decades.

Those are some of the assumptions included in any strategic plan, and they are crucial to energy discussions, because conclusions about what’s feasible completely depend on the goals which various actions  are designed to achieve.

Penn State administrators may be looking at energy planning through a lens that includes adding millions of additional square feet of air-conditioned, heated, heavily electrified space over the next several years, along with increasing student enrollment by several thousand each decade. Their lens may also include an unfounded religious faith in progress: a belief that new technological breakthroughs in energy production, storage and distribution will emerge in a timely and economically scaleable form.

If and when, however, the trillion dollar student loan bubble bursts and the shale gas bubble bursts, pushing the national Main Street economy deeper into depression, Penn State will probably be dealing with sharply reduced enrollment and a triage approach to departmental budgets and capital planning.

In that scenario, the goal will be to reverse engineer the energy consumption spike between 1987 and 2005 by disabling air conditioning, reacclimating students, faculty and staff to a wider range of interior temperatures, and remodeling or replacing aging buildings for energy efficiency, without any net increase in square footage and probably with a net decline. Raul Ilargi Meijer of The Automatic Earth uses the metaphor of “hypothermia” to describe the sacrifice of the periphery to save the core.

Through that lens, there are two key questions the Penn State community needs to ask and answer:

  • “What are the most essential services provided by the university to the wider world?” and
  • “How can those essential programs be maintained during economic contraction, climate instability and declining access to affordable fossil fuels?”
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