How SDSU handles sustainability on campus

Jennifer McLaughlin (She/Her), Sustainability Specialist

Although we cannot see it, it plays a vital role in our lives. Whether heating buildings in the winter, refrigerating vaccines or simply powering our Keurig machine in the morning, energy is essential. We do not go a day without using it. 

According to the US Energy Information Administration, roughly 60% of our nation’s electricity consumption is from fossil fuels, primarily natural gas. Fossil fuels are efficient and cost-effective, but have enormous negative environmental impacts contributing to air pollution and climate change.  And even though 40% of our nation’s energy comes from non-fossil fuel sources, energy conservation is still important. Nuclear and renewable energy do not pollute while generating electricity, but production emission, land use and proper disposal are all sustainability issues that need to be addressed when using them. 

For decades, South Dakota State University Facilities and Services has diligently implemented energy conservation practices and more recently has started to source a fraction of campus energy from renewable resources. 

LED lights make up most of the outdoor lighting, and occupancy sensors are standard for remodels and new buildings. Furthermore, all new buildings must meet LEED Silver standards. LEED is an energy efficient green building standard offered through the U.S Green Building Council.  

However, most of the energy conservation practices cannot be seen when walking around campus. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) plays an enormous role in energy conservation. Pipes transferring steam and chilled water to buildings are wrapped in thick insulation to limit the loss of energy. Mechanical equipment is kept in good condition. Not only does this extend the equipment’s life span, but it also helps the equipment work efficiently. 

Energy sources have changed on campus, too. Prior to 2012, coal was a campus energy source for heating. Now, natural gas is the primary heating source. While still a fossil fuel, natural gas is considered a cleaner source of fuel than coal. In addition, Facilities and Services has installed solar arrays on three buildings. It is estimated that together, these arrays will produce nearly 90,000 kilowatt-hours each year, which is enough to power nine homes.

Through campus energy conservation efforts, SDSU has reduced their total building energy consumption per unit of floor area by 11%, all while maintaining high energy needs on campus. Facilities and Services plans to continue energy conservation practices and are excited to be installing two new solar arrays in the coming year.