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Key Objective: 2.3 Clean Energy Sources

The iCAP 2020, objective 2.3 is: “Use clean energy sources for 15% of total campus energy demand by FY30.” The responsible campus unit for championing this objective is F&S. Progress is tracked in the iCAP Portal project page for Carbon-Neutral Energy for Campus.

Associated Metric

No metric specified for this objective


Clean energy sources can include but are not limited to: solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, biomass, renewable natural gas, and nuclear. The university should continue to support and encourage pursuance of grant and research opportunities in these markets as well as other clean energy technologies. 

A key concept in the transition to clean energy is the difference between electricity and total energy. In FY19, electricity accounted for just 38% of total campus energy consumption; the district heating and cooling systems and certain buildings with direct natural gas connections accounted for the other 62%. Because the most prevalent clean energy technologies are electricity-generating wind and solar systems, many discussions about clean energy focus on clean power.

Since the 2010 iCAP, we have made progress to incorporate clean energy for power and thermal energy on campus, with a focus on renewable electrical power. Figure 11 outlines the clean energy used on campus in FY19.

Clean Energy Source

MWh in FY19


Wind Power Purchase Agreement 



Solar Farm 1.0 Power Purchase Agreement



Business Instructional Facility rooftop solar



Wassaja Residence Hall rooftop solar



Building Research Council ground-mount solar 



Activities Recreation Center solar thermal 



Energy Farm biomass boiler



Total clean energy in FY19



Figure 11: Clean Energy Used on Campus in FY19

The 32,092 MWh of clean energy represents just 2.8% of total campus energy use in FY19; however, achieving our clean power target of 140,000 MWh/year (see Objective #2.3.1) equates to 12.2%. This objective’s larger goal of 15% clean energy by FY30 can come from any qualifying source, including but not limited to an anaerobic digester, thermal storage, fuel cells, batteries, and nuclear.

With more than 250 campus buildings using steam heat, we cannot focus our efforts exclusively  on clean power; we must incorporate clean thermal energy as well. A 198 kW Heizomat biomass boiler was installed at the Illinois Energy Farm in June 2017 under iSEE leadership.[2] This project was supported by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) and the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC), with additional funding provided by the University of Illinois Dudley Smith Initiative, the Carbon Credit Sales Fund, and the Revolving Loan Fund. It is a successful demonstration of using cellulosic biomass (i.e., the Miscanthus grown for research at the Illinois Energy Farm) to heat a greenhouse, and the facility can be expanded to provide more clean energy.Figure 11: Clean Energy Used on Campus in FY19

The Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) features a solar thermal system which reduces the need to use thermal energy from other sources. This system produces sufficient clean thermal energy to heat the three Olympic-sized swimming pools — and all domestic hot water used — in the facility. While the existing solar thermal array is small-scale, producing only three MWh/year of clean energy, this technology is particularly viable in the central Midwest and should be considered for additional campus locations.

Several campus researchers are actively developing other clean energy solutions. For example, in collaboration with the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District (UCSD), studies for converting food scraps to energy using the UCSD anaerobic digester are underway. Another program involves fine-tuning the process of converting used plastic waste to diesel fuel. Energy storage research is also expanding to include the potential to use geothermal technology for storage. 

This objective’s extended timeline allows us sufficient time to identify clean energy sources and modify Abbott Power Plant operations accordingly.

[1] The FY19 total energy use is the denominator here.


Project History