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PPA for National Petscale Computing Facility (Proposed)

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The 2015 iCAP, chapter 3, objective 4, is "Offset all emissions from the National Petascale Computing Facility (and other successor facilities) by the conclusion of the current period of National Science Foundation support." Petascale is under the purview of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), reporting to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research.

Per the eGen SWATeam’s investigation in spring 2017, the Petascale facility uses approximately 100,000 MWH of electricity annually.  At present, renewable energy certificates (RECs) are the most cost effective means of reducing the emissions from NPCF.  The lowest cost RECs cost approximately $0.35/MWH, which translates to an annual cost of $35,000. Carbon offsets are another means of offsetting the emissions. 100,000 MWh of grid purchased electricity translates to approximately 80,000 tons of CO2 emissions. At an estimated price of $3.00 per ton (which is iSEE’s estimated cost per ton of CO2 offset when purchased in bulk), that translates to an annual cost of $240,000 for the purchase of offsets. 


The National Petascale Computing Facility (NPCF) is a supercomputing facility funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that serves users across the country. It is important to the Illinois research mission to continue to be at the forefront of research in supercomputing-intensive fields, including the modeling of climate change. As of FY14, NPCF consumed about 87,000 MWh/year of electricity, which represents roughly 18% of the campus electrical load. Because the NSF grant supporting NPCF is only five years in duration, and because the future load of this facility is uncertain, it is not practical for the campus to install electrical generation facilities (renewable or otherwise) to support the load. Given the relatively short timeframe, it is also not reasonable to enter into long-term Power Purchase Agreements to supply NPCF with renewable electricity.

The best option to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions from NPCF and future supercomputing facilities is therefore to purchase carbon offsets for the entirety of those emissions.  Ideally, the cost of purchasing offsets could be included in future proposals to NSF or other agencies to support supercomputers; alternately, the campus could assume those costs itself as part of its commitment to host such facilities. 

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