Skip to main content

As colleges aim to become more sustainable, one aspect that often gets overlooked is heating. Universities have large heating systems that consume a significant amount of energy and contribute to carbon emissions. However, renewable energy technology is changing the game for heat delivery. The technology is becoming more affordable and accessible, making it a more viable option for universities to adopt. Depending on a school’s use case, solutions like geothermal heating, solar thermal energy and renewable heating oil as a replacement for traditional heating oil are three leading choices: 

1. Geothermal Heating Systems
Geothermal heating systems harness the heat that is constantly produced beneath the earth’s surface. It’s a renewable source of energy that can provide reliable heating to universities. The system works by circulating water through pipes that have been installed deep underground. The water is heated by the earth’s natural temperature and then circulated back into the building. Geothermal heating systems are eco-friendly and can save universities a significant amount of money on their heating bills.

The caveat? Geothermal systems aren’t cheap to install: Carleton College in Minnesota built a district-wide geothermal network that cost $41 million. It helps keep the small school’s buildings warm in Minnesota’s harsh winters and cool in the summer—and has Carleton on the way to eliminate greenhouse gasses completely by 2050. 

2. Solar Thermal Heating
Solar thermal heating is a technology that uses solar collectors to absorb heat from the sun and then transfer that heat into a fluid, which is circulated through a heating system. Solar thermal heating can significantly reduce the amount of energy universities need to heat their buildings, which can lead to a reduction in their carbon footprint. Northern Arizona University gets much colder winters in Flagstaff than its southern neighbors in Phoenix, so building heat is a necessity. The school is installing solar thermal systems to capture Arizona’s abundant sunshine to power heat systems in buildings like warehouses. Students help shoulder some of the cost through a $5 annual fee paid into the school’s Green Fund. 

3. Renewable Heating Oil
In regions like the Northeast, many universities use legacy oil-fired boilers to provide heat. These systems are reliable and long-lasting, but produce a significant amount of greenhouse gas. Replacing traditional heavy No. 6 heating oil with renewable heating oil derived from waste vegetable oil that is collected from restaurants not only makes a school’s heating system carbon neutral, but is also a direct plug-and-play option that requires no major modifications to a school’s boiler system. 

Lifecycle Renewables produces Truburn, the leading recycled vegetable oil derived fuel used in colleges, universities and other institutional applications in the Northeast. Schools like Harvard University, Bates College and Keene State College are all reducing their carbon footprint with this renewable energy technology. 

“Using waste vegetable oil is much better from both an environmental and cost basis,” says Lifecycle Renewables founder and CEO Rory Gaunt. “We’re sourcing oil from the same area as our clients, which means a university using Truburn basically has a renewable well of oil nearby. It’s a great closed-loop recycling story—a best use case when it comes to carbon cycles and carbon intensity.”

It’s a trend that has ramifications beyond just the size of a school’s carbon footprint. The Princeton Review surveyed 10,000 prospective college students and found that two thirds of them would consider a school’s commitment to sustainability when making their decision about where to attend.    To learn more about renewable energy technology options and innovations, talk to an institutional heating consultant at Lifecycle Renewables today.