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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 across 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.

Combined Heat and Power (CHP)– At University Park, Penn State operates the East and West Campus CHP plants cogenerating steam and electricity serving more than 200 buildings on campus. Annually, Penn State’s District Energy System produces 100% of campus steam needs and about 20% of campus electrical needs.  At an average efficiency of nearly 80%, Penn State’s District Energy system is more than twice as efficient as a typical utility power station.  District Energy systems like Penn State’s consume half the resources and produce half the pollution of a typical utility power station. Learn more about Penn State's District Energy System.

Plant\Utility Improvements - Multiple projects have been completed 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 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 eliminated the use of coal in 2016.

Renewables - Solar PPAs - In 2019, Penn State entered into a 25 year Solar PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with Lightsource BP. This 70 MW project is a large-scale ground mounted solar array, using over 150,000 solar panels sited on roughly 500 acres across 3 locations in Franklin County near Penn State's Mont Alto campus. This project will provide 25% of Penn State's state-wide electricity requirements. Targeted completion is set for July 2020. 

In 2018, Penn State entered into a 25 year PPA with the Alternative Energy Development Group (AEDG) for a 2MW onsite solar array located at the University Park campus on Orchard Rd. This project provides 1% of University Park's campus electricity needs. 

In 2015, Penn State installed a solar array outside the main Office of Physical Plant facility to  provide power to charge its 100% electric vehicles. 

Penn State's Class of 2015's gift was a solar panel array powering a bus stop near Beaver Stadium. 

The MorningStar Solar Home, located at the Sustainability Experience Center, was built in 2007 and is a 10% renewable energy powered home. 

Renewables - Hydroelectric - In 2013, Penn State entered into a 10-year power purchase agreement with Mahoning Creek Hydroelectric Company. This 6 MW hydroelectric generating plant is located at the existing USACE dam on Mahoning Creek in PA. Penn State purchases all of the net electric output from the facility. 

Renewables - Ground Source - 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. 

Greener Grid - Although University Park generates a portion of its electricity needs, all other campuses purchase their electricity requirements. 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 Penn State's purchased electricity.



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.

Energy Savings Program (ESP) – For more than 15 years, Penn State has invested in campus-wide energy conservation measures via its Energy Savings Program, which was originally modeled after the Pennsylvania Guaranteed Energy Savings Program. To date, the program has invested over $100 million with $79 million in program funding slated in the current Capital Plan. Penn State awards performance contracts to pre-approved firms for large energy projects at any of the University locations or contributes funds that ensure energy efficiency in projects where energy is not necessarily the primary focus. In either case, the energy funds, including financing, are recovered through the avoided utility costs over a 10-year payback period. Multiple ESP projects have been completed at University Park as well as Abington, Altoona, Beaver, Berks, Brandywine, Erie, Fayette, Great Valley, Harrisburg, and Hazelton campuses. Across all campuses, the Energy Savings Program has contributed to significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in line with Penn State’s GHG Emissions Reduction Goals.

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

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.

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. 


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.

Penn State's Transportation Services offers services such as Zimride (online ride-matching), Enterprise CarShare, Zagster Bike Share and a Campus Shuttle. 


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 Recycling and Composting 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.



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. Penn State offers courses and its faculty conduct research in areas that are critical to reducing GHG emissions, including renewable energy, energy storage, energy efficiency, carbon capture and storage, and other areas that have the potential to affect emissions far beyond our campus boundaries. Penn State is home to world-renowned scientists who study climate change and its impact on natural resources, human populations and the economy – and propose solutions for mitigating and adapting to those impacts. Some Penn State faculty will be participating in the Drawdown Project, a global coalition of researchers, business leaders and scholars, who aim to test and implement solutions to reverse global warming.

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.