STRATEGY 2.0 Clean and Renewable Energy Sources

solar panels on Douglas and Lincoln Halls

This strategy calls for UIC to procure renewable energy through an indirect (10-year) power purchase agreement through a renewable energy developer like a wind farm, and also through an onsite (10-year) power purchase agreement to install solar PV rooftop system. This strategy also will utilize thermal alternatives that will increase the campus' onsite power plant electricity production. This will help UIC achieve its commitment to be a Carbon Neutral Campus and could save UIC nearly 75,000 MTCO2e annually. These solutions on this page have been updated from what is mentioned in the original report (2018).

Background Strategy 2.0 Clean and Renewable Energy Sources

2.1 PROCURE RENEWABLE ENERGY

lincoln hall solar photovoltaic panels

Viable options for increasing UIC’s reliance on renewable-sourced power include a long-term offsite power purchase agreement (PPA) and a variety of onsite options for integrating solar photovoltaic (PV) generation onto campus building rooftops.

In lieu of purchasing a traditional mix of electricity from the grid, UIC can purchase non-direct renewable power (Solution 2.1.1). Indirect long-term PPA’s are a financial transaction between the generating facility and the off-taker; no renewable power is physically delivered. Instead of routing renewable power to the off-taker, the generator sells the power directly to the grid and receives the open market price. Students have expressed their support for this type of procurement.

Onsite renewable energy such as solar PV rooftop generation is a way to physically source a portion of a facility’s energy needs, improve the fuel diversity of the system, and promote energy independence by visibly demonstrating a civic commitment to reduce reliance on fossil fuels (Solution 2.1.2). Additional funding streams for physical deployment and/or procurement include grants and public-private partnerships, of which are currently and will continue to be sought out by the OS and coordinated by the VCAS.

The University of Illinois makes its energy procurements through Prairieland Energy Inc. (PEI). PEI contracted with an energy market consultant in 2019 to review methods by which UIC can meet its renewable energy and carbon reduction goals. The report found that UIC/PEI consider issuing an RFP for physical or virtual PPA to meet the requirements. Under a PPA, PEI could contract with a project developer to buy the renewable energy output and associated renewable attributes (Renewable Energy Credits – RECs) at a levelized cost over a 20 year contract, to cover the full cost of the system. PEI would have the option to purchase the system outright on or before the end of the PPA term.

 

2.1.1 Indirect Power Purchase Agreement (PPA)

GOAL

Gradually increase procurement of renewable electricity to 50% by 2028 and then 80,000 MWh by 2035.

A PPA could be used to procure energy from a large-scale off-site project. This may be done as a physical PPA or indirect PPA which has financial, environmental, transactional, and marketing benefits, in better managing costs and risks associated with physical deployment. An indirect or virtual PPA is purely a financial transaction, where the owner and operator of the project never physically sell the electricity to the buyer. Rather, the parties are signatory to a contract-for-differences, or fixed-for-floating swap, for the renewable energy and attributes. The buyer pays a fixed PPA rate to the developer and agrees to receive the floating market sale price for the renewable energy in the local power market. This means that the buyer pays or receives, monthly, the difference between the contracted PPA rate and the current market rate for the renewable power generation.

In order to meet this goal, it must be established as to what 50% of UIC’s electricity purchase is likely to be in the long term and then set a specific procurement level.

2.1.2 Onsite PPA Solar Rooftop Generation

GOAL

Contract for at least 1 MW capacity of onsite solar.

This goal is achieved by the use of a physical PPA which means that the renewable energy would be built by a third party on a leased portion of campus and delivered directly into UIC’s grid. Given the urban location of the campus, solar photovoltaic technology is best suited for this.

Numerous sites have been identified as having good potential for solar electricity generation. These are rooftops, top of parking structures, and as shelters in surface parking lots. The VCAS Solar Working Group is working with Prairieland Energy LLC, who procures energy for the campus. A  Request for Proposal (RFP) demands a goal of starting construction on at least 1 MW installed capacity by 2020.

 

Climate Resilience Connection

Reliance on a singular form of energy production creates dangerous dependencies. To achieve energy independence, UIC is determined to diversify its renewable energy portfolio through solar rooftop generation.

Climate Resilience: 7.4 SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE

2.2 UTILIZE THERMAL ALTERNATIVES

West Campus CHP Plant solar gas turbine

UIC primarily purchases natural gas and electricity through mechanisms such as reverse auctions to reduce reliance on spot markets which decreases budgetary uncertainty. When calculating emissions from purchased electricity, UIC uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) regional Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID) subregion RFCW data which is comprised of 60% coal, 25.7% nuclear, 3.6% renewable, and 9.3% natural gas. In spite of the recent efficiencies achieved, there was an overall increase in CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity utilized by UIC. This negates much of the emission reductions that should have been realized through progress, but is explained by UIC’s onsite use of cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP).

Power plants at UIC use an engine or turbine to generate electricity and utilize the excess heat generated from equipment for heating buildings. This can be up to twice as efficient in its energy use as a typical coal or gas-fired powered electricity plant. These plants produce electricity, steam, and high temperature hot water for heating, cooling, and electric loads. While the plants primarily run on natural gas, they also use diesel oil to start up engines or to operate in emergencies.  The increase in UIC’s GHG emissions between 2004 and 2009 can be attributed to the economically-driven shift towards purchasing significantly more electricity from the grid, rather than generating on site, as seen in the “kWh” tab of the “Total Electricy Consumed” graph in the CAIP Portal.

 

2.2.1 Onsite Power Plant Electricity Production

GOAL

Increase onsite power plant electricity production.

Historically, UIC’s cogeneration plants have generated electricity when it is cost-effective to do so; which is heavily driven by the cost of natural gas used in the production of electricity. The emissions attributed to on-site generation are significantly lower than those from purchased electricity. A relatively low price for grid-purchased electricity compared to the production costs of onsite UIC-generated electricity—including elevated delivered natural gas cost, deferred maintenance challenges of installed generation equipment, system reliability concerns, and economically-driven decision processes—has resulted in Utilities purchasing more electricity than it produces in its two power plants.

Utilities has become more strategic in predicting when it is cost beneficial to deploy its assets, to generate power at a lower cost when real-time market prices are inflated. Utilities has improved the material condition of generation assets, resolved system reliability issues, and instituted new fuel delivery processes to reduce the cost of delivered natural gas. In coordination with external consultants, Utilities is conducting a heat rate analysis that will allow them to better deploy assets to generate electricity in a more economic manner. A preliminary simplified Portfolio Solution was modeled to assess the GHG emissions reduction impact of increased production.