University of California Adopts Green Building and Clean Energy Policy

University of California Adopts Green Building and Clean Energy Policy

Diverse stakeholders in the UC system recently came together to develop a new system-wide policy, which tightens building design standards and includes ambitious but attainable goals for "green energy" production and purchasing.



The University of California (UC) system has a new, system-wide set of policies for energy conservation and environmental sustainability. The new "Green Building and Clean Energy Policy" is the result of an 18-month planning process that saw an unusual degree of cooperation among university administration, faculty, and students. The policy, which tightens building design standards and includes ambitious but attainable goals for "green energy" production and purchasing, was approved by the UC president in June 2004 and went into effect on July 1.

The massive UC system includes ten campuses, five medical schools, and several acute care facilities; in all, more than 100 million gsf of space accommodating a rapidly growing student population of some 200,000. The system also is California's largest electricity user, consuming up to one% of the state's total peak load.

According to Michael Bade, director of capital programs at UC San Francisco, the UC system has traditionally emphasized energy conservation and environmental stewardship. That tradition is reflected in the university's infrastructure: In the 1980s and early 1990s, the university performed numerous energy efficiency retrofits, and six of the campuses boast large thermal energy storage and cogeneration facilities.

Bade, who at the time was working in the UC Office of the President, had been pushing for more aggressive policies on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability for many months, but with little success. Finally, and largely in response to an active push by the student member of the UC Board of Regents, the Office of the President agreed to form a committee to develop such a policy. The committee, which began meeting in early 2003, included staff from the Office of the President (including Bade as staff green building coordinator), facilities and budgeting representatives of the various campuses, research professors and independent researchers from across the system, a board member from the California Energy Commission, and Aileen Adams, Agency Secretary of the California State Department of Consumer Affairs -- one of the most powerful members of the Governor's cabinet -- and some of her staff.

A Major Complication: The Utility Bill Double-Bind

As if the challenges of developing a system-wide policy on energy efficiency and sustainability were not enough, an ironic and unfortunate clash between legal technicalities and external circumstances left the UC system essentially in a catch-22 bind with respect to financing energy efficiency improvements. Specifically, Section 28 of the California administrative code prohibits use of operating cost savings to fund capital improvements. Institutions can apply for a waiver of the requirements, but only if their overall energy budgets are in the black. In the wake of the California energy crisis and the large increase in energy costs, state appropriations to cover UC’s energy requirements fall far short, leaving the university unable to apply for the waiver.

"As our utility bills have exceeded the level of state funding, we cannot use the funding mechanism of borrowing against operational savings. Our estimates indicate that if the university were able to fund these upgrades, substantial savings in energy costs could be achieved," says Bade.

Policy Solutions

According to Bade, the shadow of this considerable limitation -- which remains unresolved -- may have actually helped the committee achieve the degree of consensus they did on otherwise quite contentious issues, and there was keen interest in finding solutions that would save money during a time of budget shortfalls. Ultimately, they agreed on a set of measures that enjoy broad support.

“Everybody wished that something could be tweaked one way or another, but everybody was ultimately quite satisfied and felt that what we came up with was great,” says Bade.

The new policy includes seven key points.

1. New building projects must outperform Title 24 by 20%.

In deciding how far new buildings should outperform the California Energy Code (Title 24), a key question the committee faced was whether the policy should track the code as it evolves: requirements for energy efficiency are tightened every few years based largely on technological developments. Some committee members wanted to base the new policy on the already familiar requirements for year 2001; others wanted a re-evaluation every time the code changed. Ultimately they agreed to require all projects to outperform Title 24 by at least 20%, but that this requirement would not be pegged to any particular version of the code.

“We decided we would let the code evolve and follow that evolution, reaping the benefits of the new technology on which the code evolution is based. Future versions of the California Energy Code, which require higher levels of performance, will drive UC to even higher levels of performance under the new policy,” says Bade.

2. New building projects must enroll in “Savings by Design.”

The next element of the new policy is a requirement for all new projects to enroll in California’s “Savings by Design” program. Savings by Design is a publicly funded program, administered by California’s four investor-owned utilities, through which building owners can get assistance -- either directly or paid to outside design consultants -- to improve a project’s energy efficiency. In order to qualify for such assistance, a project must aim to beat the state code’s requirements for energy efficiency by 10%.

“The program uses standardized metrics for numerous building types -- including labs and hospitals -- that provide good estimates on whether or not the building is going to meet their targets, and projects qualify for rebates if they actually meet them,” says Bade.

3. New building projects must achieve a minimum equivalence to LEED--certified rating.

The committee faced a key challenge in deciding whether to incorporate the LEED Green Building Rating System for sustainable building design. The LEED system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs) is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. LEED was developed by members of the U.S. Green Building Council.

An important limitation of the LEED system for the UC policy process was that it was not originally developed to deal with the kinds of buildings typical of a university campus. As a result, the scoring system doesn’t always provide a rational set of choices for university buildings.

“The LEED system as currently embodied was developed around the typical suburban office building, so it does not really fit the building types that we build. Seventy% of what we build are research labs, hospitals, and housing,” says Bade.

According to Bade, the certification documentation is quite costly. Still, the system enjoys fairly widespread acceptance, and has proven effective in many regards.

In the end, the UC team decided to require buildings (other than labs and acute care facilities) to satisfy the standards that would be required to receive a LEED 2.1 Certified rating, but without requiring formal certification itself. A system-wide survey of UC construction practice indicated that this is achievable. The new policy also asks campuses to strive to satisfy the more stringent requirements of a LEED Silver rating or higher, whenever possible within the constraints of program needs and standard budget parameters.

4. Labs must use Labs21 environmental performance criteria in addition to LEED.

Bade points out that in some ways lab buildings provide greater opportunity for efficiency improvement, due to the less stringent energy-use regulations that govern labs in California. Lab designers also tend to take a looser approach to energy budgets because of the unpredictability of future lab uses. At the same time, outside air requirements and safety considerations can complicate efforts to improve energy efficiency.

Like LEED, Labs21 is a voluntary program providing opportunities for technical assistance in improving energy efficiency. Labs21 is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Labs21 Web site, the goal of the program is “to encourage the development of sustainable, high-performance, and low-energy laboratories nationwide.”

For the new UC policy, the committee decided to add the Labs21 criteria to the LEED criteria as a basis for measuring efficiency and sustainability in labs. The design process will pay special attention to energy efficiency for systems not addressed by Title 24. Systems that are regulated by Title 24 -- lighting systems, for instance -- must be designed to the same performance standards as for any other type of building.

“I have found that we often overestimate our equipment plug loads for labs. Even in our most equipment-intensive buildings, such as biomedical research labs -- where the ratio of support space to open lab space is now decisively over 50% -- we are often overestimating our plug loads. We were recently able to drop the energy budget in a building that is under design by about 20% due to the first annual run of data on the fully occupied Genentech Hall on the Mission Bay campus,” says Bade.

The committee is also looking at other applicable guidelines for the university’s healthcare facilities, such as the “Green Guide for Healthcare.”

5. System-wide growth-adjusted energy consumption must be reduced by 10% by 2014.

The committee especially felt the pinch of the Section 28 limitations in choosing targets for improved efficiency in existing buildings. The new policy aims to reduce growth-adjusted energy consumption by 10% or more, using year 2000 as the baseline, by 2014.

Several members wanted to aim for a substantially larger reduction of 25%. Bade believes that wouldn’t be a difficult target to achieve if not for the Section 28 waiver limitation, since the system includes many buildings built in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, that haven’t been significantly modified since.

“When the Santa Barbara campus put in a campus-wide direct digital control system and re-commissioned fifteen lab buildings, they dropped their campus-wide energy use by 25%. All they did was invest in the monitoring equipment and controls, and in a process of recalibration and recommissioning of these buildings, which the new controls system allowed. Based on past energy studies, many knowledgeable people believe that we could drop our total energy consumption by up to 25% if we had $400 million to invest in it, but it is very hard to fund energy efficiency retrofits right now, given that our purchased utility budgets are not in the black. It would be a boon to the whole state if we could make that investment,” says Bade.

6. A strategic plan must be developed to provide ten megawatts of locally renewable power by 2014.

According to Bade, renewable power was the most difficult debate with which the committee grappled. There was broad interest in displacing a quarter of new energy requirements from campus growth if possible.

Many on the committee wanted to pursue this through an aggressive solar-energy program, but financing such a program would be difficult, and achieving break-even would require 18 years.

“Our analysis indicated that this really isn’t cost effective for us right now. Off-peak strategies such as thermal energy storage are much more cost effective. The Riverside campus is on its way to taking its entire air conditioning load off-peak, so that they will be buying power for one cent a kilowatt hour as opposed to seven, eight, or nine cents,” says Bade.

Ultimately, the committee agreed to a policy calling for production of ten megawatts of local renewable power by 2014 -- enough to achieve the goal of displacing a quarter of the peak electric demand from new campus growth -- and to develop a strategic plan to do so.

7. Procurement officers must aim for equivalence in green power purchasing to the state’s renewable portfolio standard.

Regarding green power purchasing, the debate focused mainly on options for buying green energy futures and credits on the Chicago Board of Options.

“This is already happening in California. Your normal PG&E power has a three to seven% component of renewable energy to it already,” says Bade.

The decision was to strive to achieve equivalence in UC power to the California State Renewable Portfolio Standard, which sets a goal of procuring 20% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2017.

Implementing the New Policy

In order to respond to the new policy directive, each campus is currently developing a proposed baseline of the LEED-equivalent points that they will aim to achieve through the medium of design standards. Each campus is proposing a slightly different mix due to differing environmental constraints and planning considerations.

“Generally they are proposing 23 to 29 points in their baselines. I’m not saying that we are going to approve all of those points as we approve the baselines, but this is a pretty good place to start. Most campuses are proposing to achieve the LEED-certified level in their baselines. The campuses that do not, know that they have to make up those points on every project,” says Bade.

UC staff are also working with Labs21 to integrate the latter’s design approach into the university’s design processes. The coming year will see training and education regarding the new policies for UC staff, completion of a $16-million program funded by the public utilities commission to retrofit monitoring equipment in buildings lacking effective direct digital control systems, opening of the Merced campus, and some relatively minor energy efficiency retrofits. The first buildings subject to the new policy are expected to be occupied in 2008.

“We think we can achieve all of this except a broad program of energy-efficiency retrofits to existing buildings within current levels of capital funding at UC,” says Bade.

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This article has been reprinted courtesy of Tradeline Inc., a provider of leading-edge resources to facilities planning and management through conferences, publications, and the Internet community.

This report is based on a presentation by Michael Bade, director of capital programs at UC San Francisco, at the Tradeline Academic Science Buildings 2004 conference held in November 2004.