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The Power of a Smart Microgrid at Santa Clara University

Imagine a campus, a neighborhood, or a town where all of the electricity is generated, controlled, and measured onsite from one computer screen. It’s one of the many things a smart microgrid can do to help communities like Santa Clara University manage energy consumption, production, and become a more sustainable and climate-neutral campus. 

SCU is one the first universities in the Bay Area and the first Jesuit university in the U.S. to install a smart microgrid, which ties its power source, transmission, distribution, and even consumption data to weather reports, thereby maximizing energy savings. The power source can be solar, wind, geothermal, essentially any kind of electricity generator. The smart microgrid can also deliver data in real time and measure carbon emissions. In the event of a major power outage, SCU would be able to remain operational, even during prolonged periods of time, and generate enough electricity to power nearby homes and businesses.

“This technology is going to dramatically decrease energy use and costs and simplify the way we manage our buildings,” says Joe Sugg, assistant vice president of University Operations. “The University’s current system allows us to only control HVAC systems and temperatures. With a smart microgrid, we can instantly turn off lights and equipment in any building, ration electricity during prolonged power outages, and all from your desk.”

In the first phase of the project, SCU installed sub-meters into 14 buildings and integrated the smart microgrid’s onsite alternative energy sources, such as solar, fuel cells, and mico-turbines. The next phase will connect the entire campus to the campus microgrid. Once the launch of the smart microgrid is complete in December 2011, it’s estimated to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent and save the University about 20 percent in energy costs.

SCU is collaborating with Sustainable Silicon Valley, Cisco, and Serious Energy (formerly Valence Energy), which was founded by SCU alumni who competed in the 2007 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C.

As outlined in his inaugural address in 2009, President Michael Engh’s vision for the University is a commitment to sustainability and environmental justice. The integration of the smart microgrid is one of the many ways SCU is becoming more sustainable and climate neutral. SCU also recently installed solar panels, instituted Zipcars, and purchased 22,512 megawatt hours of green power, which is equivalent to taking nearly 3,000 cars off the road for one year.

With stewardship and education an important part of Engh’s plan, SCU also launched a graduate certificate in renewable energy that includes a course called Introduction to the Smart Grid. SCU Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new curriculum for a master’s degree in Sustainable Energy within the School of Engineering starting in the 2011–12 academic year. The Office of Sustainability will use the smart microgrid’s real-time data to raise awareness and change the way students, faculty, and staff live and work.

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