Energy Conservation at Notre Dame

Notre Dame is actively addressing the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions stemming from power generation, with the goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus by 2050.  These initiatives fall into three categories: 

  • Energy conservation infrastructure (investing in more efficient technology)
  • Behavior change programs (educating and incentivizing the campus community to save energy)
  • Energy decarbonization (using cleaner energy)

Building Upgrades: ECM I, ECM II and ECM III

The multi-year Energy Conservation Measures (ECM) program continues to implement energy efficiency technology in existing campus buildings, with expected efficiencies ranging from 10-20% at each building. 

The strategies employed in the ECM program include 

  • Efficient lighting
  • Occupancy sensors
  • Variable speed air handling units and pumps
  • Direct digital controls
  • Building scheduling and ventilation optimization
  • And the improvement of the HVAC systems on campus. 

The first phase of the program retrofitted 25 buildings from 2008-2010 at a cost of $4 million, reducing electricity use by over 5.2 million kWh, and steam and chilled water by over 30,000 MMBTU, equating to a 4,000 MTCO2e reduction. 

In ECM II, implemented in 2011-2013 in 55 buildings, ECM I strategies were continued, but efforts expanded into new areas. These included installing LED lighting in exit signs, reducing the flow rates of fume hoods, and replacing motors and pumps with high-efficiency models. ECM II  yielded an annual savings of over $1 million and reduced campus carbon dioxide emissions by 14,900 tons each year.  

ECM III, begun in 2014, was concluded in early 2016.  Once again, the basic strategies of ECM I and II were utilized, with additional efforts in new areas such as variable speed air compressors, high-bay LED lighting, energy metering, laboratory ventilation reductions, and computerized building performance analysis using "big data" techniques.  ECM III resulted in an estimated reduction in campus carbon dioxide emissions of 12,000 tons per year. Investment in the first three ECM phases totaled nearly $13 million, roughly equal to the amount of savings generated through FY15, providing an overall return on investment of 15% annually.  

Main Building Led Lighting

ECM IV, launched in 2016, is currently in the final stages, including building retro-commissioning, solar photovoltaic, hydroelectric, LED lighting, and geothermal heating/cooling projects.

The Golden Dome is illuminated by state-of-the-art LED lights.  These LED lights reduce energy consumption by over 35,000 kilowatt hours per year and reduce the campus carbon footprint by approximately 12.2 tons per year.

LED Light Standards

Since September 2009, the University has retrofitted over 1200 outdoor light standards with LED lamps, resulting in reduced carbon dioxide emissions of about 450 tons per year.  As part of ECM IV, the University retrofitted another 300 outdoor light standards, completing the conversion of all existing campus exterior lighting to LED.  LEDs are now the campus standard for new lamp posts going forward.   Notre Dame joined the LED University program in 2008, an international community of universities working to accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient LED lighting.

Thermostat Set-Point Program

For buildings that have digitally controlled heating and cooling, sensors maintain each room's temperature between 70° and 75° during the time of occupancy but allow it to fluctuate within that range.  Allowing the temperature to fluctuate rather than trying to maintain an exact temperature reduces energy use by minimizing the use of mechanical systems.  Those faculty, staff, and students who are not in digitally controlled buildings are asked to keep residential, office and classroom temperatures below 75° during the heating season and within the 70° to 75° range during the cooling season.

Energy Decarbonization

Over the last several years, the Notre Dame Power Plant has burned a greater percentage of natural gas versus coal, with the result that the carbon intensity of our energy has been declining. In the fall of 2015, President Jenkins announced that the university will cease burning coal entirely within five years and invest $113 million in renewable energy sources and projects. In September 2019, the University ceased burning coal one year ahead of the scheduled 2020 goal.

Several renewable energy projects have been installed on campus:

  • A 50kW solar panel system donated by GE on the roof of Stinson-Remick Hall, providing an estimated 55,000 kWh annually
  • A 10kW flexible thin-film solar array donated by Inovateus Solar on the roof of Fitzpatrick Hall
  • A 4kW vertical wind turbine on the roof of the power plant
  • A 144.72kW ground-mounted solar system installed at the Kenmore Warehouse 
  • A 20 MWe 210-acre solar facility installed at the former St. Joseph Farm location

Additional renewable initiatives include:

  • Gas turbine technology — The University has installed combined cycle combustion gas turbines to produce both electricity and steam. This energy production is twice as efficient as a traditional electrical plant. The steam produced through the heat-recovery steam generators, powered in part by the gas turbine exhaust, is further used to heat campus, produce hot water, and drive equipment to provide air conditioning for campus.
  • Thermal Storage  The University installed an auxiliary power plant on Wilson Drive, which houses a thermal energy storage tank with the capacity to store two-million gallons of chilled water.  This allows the creation of additional cooling capacity at night when electric rates are less expensive.  The energy stored in the tank is used to meet peak cooling loads during the heat of the day.
  • Geothermal applications — Numerous sites have been installed across campus to support both new and existing campus buildings.  These geothermal energy systems are located in the East Quad, the quad area south of McCourtney Hall and east of Hesburgh library, parking lots south of Notre Dame Stadium, and the Ricci Athletic Fields.
  • Hydro power — The University is currently working with the city of South Bend and state and federal agencies to permit and construct a hydroelectric facility on the St. Joseph River dam in downtown South Bend. Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. Underground transmission lines will transmit the electricity generated by the new facility to campus.  It is expected to produce 7 percent of current campus electrical needs.
  • Heat recovery — Numerous projects are both underway and in the planning phases to recover and regenerate energy from existing energy sources, such as the power plant’s condenser water.