Penn State is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% (from its peak in 2005) by 2020. It has an even more ambitious target of an 85% reduction by 2050.

Most of Penn State’s emissions come from energy production and consumption. Through 2020, 47% of our emissions will come from the production of our purchased electricity and 20% will come from the operation of our steam plants. The next largest contributor is commuter traffic, which generates 17.5% of our emissions.

More than 97% of the University’s reductions have come from five strategies, with more than half (56%) coming through its Energy Program (including Continuous Commissioning). The University has actually dropped its energy usage to 2003 levels, despite the fact that during that same time period the University added more than 1 million square feet of building space. This investment in energy efficiency will continue over the next three decades, as will the deployment of a carefully targeted renewable energy sources.

Energy Programs

Penn State made an investment of almost $75 million over a 10 year period dedicated to energy conservation initiatives including tuning up existing buildings to optimize their performance, installing HVAC upgrades, updating temperature controls, retrofitting lighting fixtures, installing occupancy sensors, and improving building envelopes.

Actions we’re taking to conserve energy include:

  • Installing room occupancy sensors
  • Installing heat recovery equipment
  • Replacing inefficient lighting with higher efficiency fluorescent and LED technologies
  • Programming thermostats
  • Upgrading/reprogramming control systems
  • Winter Break Shutdown: During extended break periods like the winter holiday, Penn State conserves energy by reducing the temperature in campus buildings to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and turning lights and computers off.
  • Improving steam traps
  • Installing low-flow water fixtures
  • Lab ventilation improvements
  • Updating and replacing heating systems
  • Motor replacement
  • Variable frequency drives
  • Steam system enhancements
  • Cleaning and flushing HVAC piping


Aerospace technology has been adapted as a way of creating steam and generating electricity. A Combustion Turbine and Heat Recovery Steam Generator (basically a jet engine) was installed at the ECSP in 2010, increasing our level of CHP, improving the efficiency of the steam system, and reducing our emissions drastically.

Conversion From Coal to Natural Gas

On March 30, 2016, Penn State’s West Campus Steam Plant (WCSP) burned its final load of coal, bidding farewell to coal-fired operations at University Park after more than 150 years. The West Campus Steam Plant was built in 1929 and has been in almost continuous operation for 86 years.

Three coal-fired boilers have been replaced by two, new, high-capacity, gas-fired boilers. The smoke stack at the WCSP and the adjoining bag house will both be removed as the project continues.

Both the WCSP and the East Campus Steam Plant (ECSP), built in 1972, are part of a district energy system that produces steam distributed to more than 200 individual buildings via a network of 17 miles of underground piping.

The switch from coal to natural gas and upgrades to both East and West Campus Steam Plants will improve on Penn State’s already highly efficient District Energy System. In 2011 PSU’s system operated at 72%. When completed, Penn State’s system will operate at better than 80%--more than two times the efficiency of the electric grid.

Hydro Purchase

Penn State and Cube Hydro™ created the Mahoning Creek Hydroelectric Facility, which supplies Penn State with eight percent of its energy. This low-impact plant repurposes a 1941 concrete dam, which had its original hydropower designs postponed by steel shortages during World War II.

In addition to providing sustainable energy, the partnership offers exciting educational opportunities for students. Interns from engineering and environmental science are involved in areas such as design, management practices, power generation, economics, and environmental impact. The project currently supports five interns each year.


To influence behavior, the University adopted AD64, an Energy Conservation Policy designed to lower energy consumption through employee and student action. This policy establishes guidelines and practices for lighting use, interior space temperature setpoints, computer power management, and the use of office equipment, appliances, and fume hoods.