We know that Berkeley must decarbonize its campus energy system to meet the urgent climate, operational, and educational goals of the next decade. The university currently depends on an aging cogeneration plant powered by natural gas to provide steam for thermal needs and electricity for 90% of the campus power. This plant is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses, responsible for about 125,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. 

The current plant, nearing the end of its lifecycle, needs to be replaced. To determine the most ecologically responsible and financially prudent path forward, the campus has undertaken a number of studies leading to the following scope of solutions. 

The Berkeley Clean Energy Campus initiative proposes to replace its existing, aged fossil fuel cogeneration plant and steam system and transform the Berkeley campus into an electrified and renewable energy microgrid that reduces campus building energy carbon emissions by 85%. This infrastructure renewal program will include a new Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant (EHCP); distribution of hot/cold water to over 12 million square feet of space in approximately 100 campus buildings; Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) including solar photovoltaics, battery storage, geothermal heat exchange and fuel cells for efficiency and critical load backup; and upgrades to the campus electrical infrastructure to support increasing clean power needs. The campus would like to have significant portions of the new system operational by 2028 and be substantially complete by 2031. In addition to addressing campus carbon emissions, the project enables the campus to address substantial restoration and renewal needs across its energy infrastructure.

Background and Project Drivers

The Berkeley campus manages and provides its own utilities. The campus is served by a natural gas cogeneration plant which provides heat and power to the campus. The campus the owns the cogeneration plant and directly maintains and supports all other utilities, including underground steam and high voltage lines, seven switch stations, and a 12KV substation. When the campus needs more power than can be provided by this plant, power is drawn from Pacific Gas & Electric through the campus-owned substation.

The campus commissioned a number of studies since 2015 to determine how to position its utilities infrastructure to serve existing and future needs and to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions. The latest study, the Integrated Resource and Activation Plan (IRAP) determined that replacing the existing cogeneration plant and steam system with a new, centralized Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant (EHCP) providing heating and cooling to the campus through new hot and chilled water distribution piping was the optimal solution. The IRAP also identified a set of new on-site Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) that would provide efficiency and energy resiliency for critical loads.

Project Scope

The project consists of three primary components: (1) the new Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant, (2) hot and chilled water distribution systems, and (3) Distributed Energy Resources to provide efficiency and resiliency for critical loads. This new infrastructure will provide much needed reliability and allow the campus to support planned growth that existing utility infrastructure cannot support.  

Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant (EHCP): The project will construct the Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant with electrified heat pumps and chillers, a geothermal heat exchange well under the building, and thermal storage tanks capable of using recycled water if a source becomes available. The Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant is being planned to provide additional electrical capacity to support the campus’s planned growth consistent with its Long Range Development and Planning. The new plant would replace the campus’s existing cogeneration plant, serve the entire campus, and be located on the Campus Park to serve as a living lab for campus affiliates and visitors.

Distribution System: The campus plans to install new underground hot and chilled water piping in approximately 100 buildings, convert buildings to accept hot and chilled water piping loops in lieu of steam, and upgrade the high voltage system as necessary to electrify campus utilities. In the initial implementation, the campus would connect its most energy-intensive buildings to the new system, shifting approximately 75% of its thermal energy load to the new Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant. Other campus facilities would be connected after the initial distribution network is complete. Other facilities planned and constructed prior to full operation or distribution from the Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant would be designed to be compatible with the new distribution system and EHCP.

Distributed Energy Resources (DERs): The project will initially plan for approximately 12 MW of solar photovoltaic systems, 8 MW of green-hydrogen-ready fuel cells, and 45 MWh of battery storage. Other solutions are still being explored including closed-loop pumped hydro and other energy storage options. These systems would preserve power for critical campus functions during an outage.

Sustainability, Carbon, and Renewal Solutions 

The Berkeley Clean Energy Campus initiative will help chart implementation of the UC Sustainable Practices Policy by meeting and exceeding the goals and procedures of climate protection, green building, clean energy, and sustainable water. The initiative achieves an approximate 70% reduction in carbon emissions when the existing cogeneration plant is decommissioned, and the initial set of the most energy-intensive buildings are connected to the new Electrified Heating and Cooling Plant; this, along with biomethane credits will move the campus below the regulated threshold of California’s Cap and Trade program. The new system would provide an 85 percent reduction in building-related energy carbon emissions at full build-out.

anticipated carbon reductions from Berkeley Clean Energy Campus (bar graph-decorative))

The initiative provides over $300 million in avoided restoration and renewal costs by replacing failing in-building equipment with new centralized equipment. It will achieve a reduction of over $110 million in operating expenses over the system’s life through improved reliability and avoided costs of carbon. The proposed Distributed Energy Resources will provide sufficient power and backup capacity to support campus critical loads, such as life safety provisions and research protection during an extended outage.

Concept of Centralized Heating & Cooling Plant

Clean Energy Campus Concept Drawings by Wendy Hillis as of August 2023

Concept drawings at this stage of planning for the eletrified plant that will be part of the Berkeley Clean Energy Campus project.