MIT’s energy strategy

Does MIT have an energy strategy in place?

Our energy strategy is part of our overarching Plan for Action on Climate Change. In brief, the strategy includes taking action on several fronts, including:

  • Reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions at least 32% from 2014 levels by 2030
  • Accelerating progress towards low- and zero-carbon energy technologies by launching eight low-carbon energy centers, advancing research on transforming major energy systems, and conducting an ambitious study on the prevention of global warming 
  • Continuing to educate climate, energy, and environmental innovators and enhancing learning opportunities in these fields for upcoming generations
  • Developing a targeted campus climate action plan, expected to be complete in 2016

These actions are just part of our larger plans to address our planet’s pressing climate change and energy issues. For more information, please visit the Plan for Action.

Why is MIT’s energy use increasing rather than decreasing?

MIT must continue to fulfill its mission to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. Fulfilling that mission requires expanded campus activities (including the creation of eight new low-carbon energy centers, as described in the Plan for Action on Climate Change) and some new energy-intensive research activities.

What is MIT doing to mitigate its increased energy use and/or reduce its demand for energy?

On a broad scale, MIT’s ongoing research and our work to improve overall campus sustainability create (and will continue to create) multiple opportunities to reduce energy use, explore and invest in new energy technologies, and implement more efficient building systems, envelopes, and metering. We plan to accelerate these efforts. Please visit the Efficiency Forward Program and the Plan for Action on Climate Change for more information.

  • Although the upgraded CUP will have more capacity, the plant's emissions will be reduced from current levels. By reinvesting in cogeneration and adding new state-of-the-art equipment, technology, and emissions controls, MIT will achieve a substantial increase in energy efficiency. 
  • Within the MIT community, individuals are also taking steps to reduce energy demand through research and also on a personal level. We hope to keep the entire community actively engaged in efforts to use less energy. Every student, faculty member, and visitor can contribute by being thoughtful about both large-scale and individual energy consumption. 

Why does MIT have (and/or need to upgrade) its plant in Cambridge? Can the energy be generated elsewhere?

If MIT continues to purchase significant quantities of electricity from the grid (generated elsewhere), we will not achieve the goals of improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and improving campus resiliency. If MIT were to locate its cogeneration plant elsewhere, we would lose all of the on-site thermal benefits of cogeneration.

Does MIT have an energy conservation plan? Could conservation change the scope of this project? 

MIT’s energy conservation program, Efficiency Forward, has been operating since 2010 and continues to implement highly successful conservation measures to reduce energy use across campus. Efficiency Forward provided key guidance throughout the planning stages for the CUP upgrade.

How does the Efficiency Forward Program work?

MIT’s Efficiency Forward Program is a partnership with NSTAR (now Eversource) that enables the Institute to implement crucial energy efficiency measures across campus. 

  • Upgrades have included high-efficiency equipment and components in new buildings, upgraded lighting and associated controls in existing buildings, and additional retrofits to improve the efficiency of existing mechanical systems and HVAC systems.
  • In its first three-year term, Efficiency Forward helped MIT achieve its annual reduction target of 34 million kilowatt-hours. These savings are equivalent to the electricity consumed annually by 3,000 Massachusetts homes. 
  • Now in its fifth year, the Efficiency Forward partnership has enabled MIT to achieve an annual reduction of 47 million kilowatt-hours, and the Institute is expecting to reach an annual reduction of 55 million kilowatt-hours by June 2016. 
  • At the same time, Efficiency Forward is now helping MIT reduce natural gas consumption on campus as well. The initial goal of saving 350,000 therms of natural gas by June 2016 has been far surpassed, as MIT is already on track to reduce consumption by more than 900,000 therms by that date. 

Is MIT keeping track of its greenhouse gas emissions?

Yes. For each fiscal year since 2014, MIT has developed a greenhouse gas emissions inventory based on the Operational Control Approach as defined by the World Resources Institute’s GHG Protocol. The MIT Office of Sustainability provides detailed information about MIT’s greenhouse gas emissions measuring and inventories.

How is MIT incorporating renewable resources in its energy strategy?

MIT continuously evaluates options for incorporating renewable solutions in the context of our energy strategy, environmental impact, and financial costs. Most recently, the Institute entered into a groundbreaking partnership with Boston Medical Center and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation to buy electricity from a large new solar power installation in North Carolina.

  • This partnership enabled the construction of  Summit Farms, a roughly 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm with 255,000 solar panels. The new farm’s expected annual output (146 gigawatt-hours of emissions-free power) will result in the abatement of 119,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of removing 25,250 cars from the road.
  • Through a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA), MIT is committed to buying 73% (44 megawatts) of the power generated at Solar Farms. This purchase neutralizes 17% of MIT’s carbon emissions and is a substantial contribution toward our goal of reducing emissions at least 32% from 2014 levels by 2030.
  • Equally important, the Summit Farms PPA – the largest cooperative buyer project of its kind – serves as a model for other organizations to access renewable energy and achieve a large-scale impact that they could not have achieved separately.

In addition to the Summit Farms PPA, MIT continues to explore other leading-edge renewable resource technologies to incorporate on campus and beyond.

Why is MIT choosing a natural gas-fired plant?

MIT has made the commitment to move from #2 and #6 fuel oil to a cleaner plant fueled by natural gas. Compared with other options, a reliable on-campus source of energy is crucial to supporting MIT’s research and educational activities. A cogeneration plant powered by natural gas is one of the cleanest and most efficient proven options available today – and will serve MIT as an effective bridge to evolving energy technologies.