Campus Energy Independence: University of Wisconsin River Falls

Published: 2008

In 2006, UW-River Falls was selected as one of four Wisconsin college campuses to participate in a pilot program to achieve energy independence by 2012. The Energy Center identified and analyzed the options for UW-River Falls to achieve this goal.

About the study

A university campus functions as a small community. Because of its density, relative independent control of its land and buildings and visible leadership it can serve as a test ground for innovative solutions to our dependence on fossil fuels. In 2006, Governor Doyle announced that four Wisconsin college campuses would be selected to participate in a pilot program to achieve energy independence by 2012. The University of Wisconsin—River Falls was one of the campuses selected for this program.

What does energy independence mean for UW River Falls? It means acquiring or producing enough renewable energy to meet its energy needs. In 2007, the campus used:

  • 14,000,000 kWh of electricity equal to the average annual consumption of 1,400 houses in Wisconsin.
  • 115 MMlbs of steam used for water and space heating (produced by burning natural gas, coal and some fuel oil) equal to the average annual consumption of 1,150 houses in Wisconsin.

UW River Falls needed to know what their options were for meeting their energy needs with renewable sources. Wisconsin Public Power Inc., a regional power company serving River Falls Municipal Utilities, contracted with the Energy Center of Wisconsin to identify and analyze those options. There were varied approaches and innumerable potential combinations of strategies and technologies for reaching UW River Falls’ goal of energy independence. The first step was to narrow them down to a manageable few.

This process involved calculating the degree of “independence” produced by the various approaches and the resulting life cycle cost of implementing them. As a result of this narrowing, Energy Center staff selected four possible scenarios for achieving energy independence. Each scenario included a combination of measures (ranging from building efficiency and conservation to biomass-fueled boiler plants to purchasing green power) that together meet the campus’s energy needs. These scenarios were selected based on the percent of carbon-dioxide reduction achieved compared to UW River Falls’ baseline energy consumption. The four scenarios were:

  • Standard Scenario—attempts to make full use of existing campus infrastructure with as little capital investment as possible;
  • Geothermal Scenario—implements a campus-wide geothermal heat pump system to meet cooling and heating needs, produces an all-electric campus;
  • Cogeneration: Thermal Load Scenario—produces steam using biomass fuel to meet heating and cooling demand, with electric production secondary; and
  • Cogeneration: Electric Load Scenario—produces steam using biomass fuel to meet all electric demand, with thermal needs secondary.

The key findings from the analysis of these four scenarios were that:

  • Energy independence can be achieved for as little as $19.1 million net present value over the existing baseline, or roughly $10 per gross square foot in today’s dollars.
  • Achieving partial independence costs much less. For example, 64% independence can be achieved at one-tenth of the 100% cost. Costs rise dramatically after this threshold.
  • Life cycle costs are highly dependent on energy cost escalation assumptions. Under a high escalation scenario, energy independence actually saves money over the life cycle.

UW River Falls has adopted a twophase approach to achieving energy independence: first tackle energy efficiency and renewable options for producing electricity, and then address the replacement of steam plant fuels with renewables. Project planning, financing, and further detailed studies are underway.

Report number: 
255-1