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Climate Action - Strategies & Projects

Penn State has developed multiple strategies to reduce its energy usage and GHG emissions. Operational strategies include efforts in energy supply and demand, transportation, and waste. These strategies are fluid and may be updated, changed, or added to as additional opportunities become available. In addition to the University's commitment to reduce its direct GHG emissions, there is also a commitment to effect change outside of Penn State. The University has diverse Education, Research, and Outreach programs within the institution that contribute to the global issue of climate change.


Energy is the largest contributor to Penn State’s emissions profile. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy focuses on the reduction of energy consumption through increased efficiency, conservation and awareness as well as programs in sectors other than energy.

At University Park, Penn State operates two power plants and utility distribution systems for steam, condensate return, natural gas and compressed air. The West Campus Steam Plant consists of four 1960's era coal fired boilers and one 1947 coal boiler converted to natural gas. Two 1930’s vintage backpressure steam turbines rated at 2.5 mW and 3.5 mW generate electricity to serve Penn State's emergency power needs as well as provide low-pressure steam to campus.  These turbines produce approximately 6% of Penn State's total power needs. The East Campus Steam Plant consists of two 1970's era natural gas\oil boilers and a combustion turbine with a heat recovery steam boiler installed in 2011.

CT HRSG - In 2011, a combustion turbine and heat recovery steam boiler to cogenerate steam and 7MW of electricity at the East Campus Steam Plant was installed. With the current low cost of natural gas, this machine is now a baseload machine. This operational change has reduced the University's coal consumption as well as increased on-site electricity production. University Park now cogenerates approximately 20% of its power needs.

Steam Turbine Replacement - A project to replace the 2 back pressure steam turbines with new more-efficient units has been initiated. This project is expected to reduce the amount of vented steam as well as increase the amount of electricity produced.

Other Plant\Utility Improvements - Multiple projects have been initiated to upgrade systems to reclaim condensate, insulate pipes and fittings in manholes, fix leaks in condensate pipes, install newer technology (desuperheater, pumps, etc.) and improve water treatment. These projects will improve overall plant and utility system efficiency.

WCSP Upgrade - Fuel Switch to Natural Gas - In response to air quality regulations, economic drivers and environmental initiatives, the University will switch from coal to natural gas at the West Campus Steam Plant. Three of the existing boilers will be removed. Two new natural gas boilers will be installed and the remaining two boilers will be derated to operate on natural gas only. This conversion is expected to be complete by 2017.

Greener Grid - University Park generates a portion of its electricity needs. All other campuses purchase their electricity requirements. GHG emissions from purchased electricity are based on the fuel mix from the NERC region and eGrid subregion a campus is located in. The Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) requires that an annually increasing percentage of electricity sold to retail customers in Pennsylvania is from alternative energy sources. The current low price of natural gas, abundant regional supply and upcoming regulatory initiatives have caused a switch to natural gas at some power plants. The increase of renewables through AEPS and a move towards natural gas will reduce the GHG emissions associated with the Penn State's purchased electricity.

Renewables - The University Park campus has three small solar arrays on campus. Penn State purchased Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from 2005-2012 to jump-start GHG reductions. These funds are now used for onsite efficiency projects. A few new buildings utilize ground-source heat pumps. These systems are considered for new buildings on the perimeter of the University Park campus that do not have access to the central steam system and new buildings at Commonwealth Campuses. In 2013, Penn State entered into a 10-year power purchase agreement with Mahoning Creek Hydroelectric Company. This new 6 MW hydroelectric generating plant was built in 2013 at the existing USACE dam on Mahoning Creek. Penn State purchases all of the net electric output from the facility and applies the environmental attributes to AEPS. Penn State continues to investigate and pursue additional funding sources for onsite renewable installations.




Green Design -Penn State has developed and implemented a University policy that guides sustainable elements in the design and construction of University facilities in accordance with USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). All new buildings at Penn State will be, at a minimum, LEED certified.

Energy Conservation Policy - In 2009, Penn State instituted an Energy Conservation Policy (AD64) that established guidelines and practices that will lower the University's energy consumption, reduce expenditures on energy and reduce greenhouse gases. The policy is applicable to all Penn State owned or leased facilities at all campus locations.

Building Automation Systems - Approximately 350 buildings at the University Park campus are controlled via building automation systems (BAS). This functionality maintains customer environmental satisfaction by keeping the buildings climate within specific range and providing lighting based on occupancy schedules as well as monitoring system performance for device failures.

Enterprise Utility Management System - Penn State utilizes an Enterprise Energy Management Suite for tracking of energy commodity purchasing, energy and water consumption, meter data and real time energy data for a select number of buildings. This system allows for accurate tracking of energy consumption and the data is used to inform development of Energy Program projects.

Energy Program - The Office of Physical Plant Energy Program administers the behind-the-scenes mechanical, technical and operational aspects of energy efficiency and conservation in buildings and utilities. The Program consists of energy usage monitoring and benchmarking, performance contracting, energy efficiency and continuous commissioning.

Continuous Commissioning (CCx) - Commissioning occurs shortly after a building’s completion to verify if it is functioning according to its design objectives. Implemented in 1998, the University Park Continuous Commissioning Program (CCx) focuses on the re-commissioning, retro-commissioning, and maintenance of campus buildings. The goals of the program are to reduce energy costs and optimize building performance. CCx are “corrective” projects that typically have a 5-year simple payback. The program currently includes 2 CCx Engineers and (3) 2-person technical service crews. These savings are repurposed toward other energy saving projects. 

Energy Conservation Measures (ECM) - These projects are smaller in scope and are completed in E&G buildings. The average simple payback is less than 5 years. Solutions in the past have included:

  • Improving Steam Traps
  • Installing Low-flow water fixtures
  • Upgrading Chiller/Chilled Water
  • Programming Thermostats
  • Reprogramming/ upgrading control systems
  • Tuning up systems and equipment
  • Switching fuel selection
  • Cleaning and flushing HVAC (heating, venting and air conditioning) piping
  • Installing room occupancy sensors
  • Winter Break shutdown

As opportunities arise, miscellaneous projects are initiated to reduce energy consumption. As buildings are connected to University Park's central chilled water system and standalone systems are removed, a significant energy savings is expected. Power management software has been rolled out to campus computers for energy conservation. A rapid commissioning initiative was implemented to quickly look at HVAC systems in buildings to find low and no-cost energy conservation solutions.

The University is implementing a $60 million 5 year investment in these and other energy efficiency and conservation initiatives.


The Office of Physical Plant operates a diverse Service Fleet consisting of electric, hybrid, bio-diesel, flex-fuel, CNG as well as traditional gasoline and diesel vehicles. Vehicles are selected for their specific use with a focus on efficiency, reliability, economic value and sustainability. Penn State's passenger fleet provides vehicles to faculty, staff and students for University travel. Only flex-fuel vehicles are purchased for passenger Fleet Services.

At University Park, a Bicycle Master Plan was developed in conjunction with the Borough of State College to promote bicycle commuting. Penn State partners with CATA (Centre Region Transportation Authority) to offer free on-campus bus shuttle services and low cost solutions for off campus bus service. CATA also administers commuter programs for car and vanpools.

Visit Penn State's Sustainable Transportation page to learn more.


Penn State has a comprehensive waste management program that emphasizes reduce, reuse, recycle and restore. The ultimate goal is to be zero waste. The Administrative Policy (AD34), University Recycling Program has been established to recognize that waste management is the responsibility of all faculty, staff and students. It outlines Penn State's commitment to sustainability and environmental resource management. Visit Penn State's Waste Management and Recycling page to see all of Penn State's initiatives in waste management, recycling and compost.


The Sustainability Institute offers a variety of programs to students, staff and faculty. First year students can become Eco-Reps who learn about sustainability and then encourage their peers to practice sustainable lifestyles. An Energy Challenge and a Recycling Challenge is conducted in residence halls to encourage students to take action to reduce energy consumption and increase recycling rates. Faculty, staff and students can become a part of a Green Team, whose members volunteer to take specific actions to help the organization operate in a more efficient, innovative and healthy way. The Green Paws program offers strategies for units or individuals to "green" their office space.

To learn more about Penn State's programs for students, faculty and staff visit the What You Can Do page


Although the University has implemented multiple strategies to reduce its GHG emissions, Penn State's efforts go well beyond what is measured by the inventory. GHG emissions reduction efforts are just one indicator of Penn State's commitment to Sustainability. Penn State has developed a Sustainability Strategic Plan which lays out the University's sustainability goals, strategies and specific actions that will infuse sustainability as a guiding principle into all aspects of the institution's academics, research, campus operations, student life and outreach. Penn State is a "living lab" for sustainability.

Visit Penn State's Education, Research & Outreach sustainability page to learn more.