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Carbon Offsets for Major Users (Proposed)


One of the long-term energy commitments set forth in the 2010 Illinois Climate Action Plan was to impose charges for the purchase of renewable energy for facilities that use massive amounts of energy. The National Petascale Computing Facility is the only current facility that falls into this catagory. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the energy use of the facility. The University plans to impost charges on the NSF for the cost of renewable energy in the next contract negotiations.  


The National Petascale Computing Facility is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded supercomputing facility. The Facility is substantially complete; however, the supercomputers will not come online until July 2011. The Petascale Computing Facility has been developed to high-energy efficiency standards; the building is likely to achieve LEED Gold or possibly LEED Platinum certification. The Blue Waters supercomputer is housed in the Petascale Computing Facility. Blue Waters is water-cooled and directly powered with high-power alternating current to reduce power conversion losses. Once complete, it is likely that this supercomputer will be the most energy efficient in the world.  The primary facility load is due to the Blue Waters supercomputer (14 to 16 MW), though the facility is also expected to host additional smaller supercomputers. By December 2012, the Facility will draw ~18 MW of electrical power for the supercomputers and other equipment, running continuously with at least 95 percent uptime. This will increase campus electricity consumption by about 30 to 35 percent. The Facility will also require a cooling capacity of 5,400 tons, provided through a combination of chilled water by campus chiller facilities or by on-site cooling towers. The overall chilled water usage is 263,061 MMBtu. Campus intends to purchase all the electricity for the Facility and for its chilled water needs from the Midwest Independent Standards Operator (MISO) grid. The University can estimate from the MISO fuel mix that the facility will have annual carbon emissions of ~120,000 MTE CO2. Even though the NSF will pay for the electricity it requires to operate the Facility, it does not pay for externalities and emissions increases.  The campus contract to operate the supercomputer is effective through September 30, 2016, though the Facility will likely continue to operate. In 2016, the NSF will entertain requests for proposals to replace Blue Waters. The next iteration of supercomputer is likely to draw an additional 30 MW of electrical power (for a total of ~50 MW).15 Due to the difficulties in predicting the fate of the Facility, the University assumes that it will contribute a fixed amount of 120,000 MTE CO2 to campus emissions from 2012 to 2050. Since the Facility itself has been built to high efficiency building standards, and most of its power consumption is mission driven, additional opportunities for reduction do not seem available at this time. However, any future possibilities to reduce the Facility’s power consumption should be investigated. The campus will include charges for the purchase of renewable electricity when competing for the next supercomputer.

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Related Files

Project Team

  • Primary Contact:

    Meredith Moore, iSEE

    Prior Contacts:

    • Ben McCall


  • Investigated July 15, 2016
    Investigated by Ben McCall