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Campuses as Smarter City Test Beds

23 November 2011
Campuses as Smarter City Test Beds

One of the key points in our forthcoming report on smart cities which is due out November 30, 2011, is that cities will need to experiment with new business models as well as new technologies. One option is to look to universities for trials, where the skills and the challenges can come together quickly. Here, Jerry Sheehan, Chief of Staff, California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, guest blogs for us on campuses as 'smarter city' test beds.

Jerry writes:

Modern universities act as a source for scientific innovation and social changes that are structured as campus size “cities” with populations rivaling some municipalities.

According to the US Department of Education, in 2010, the 120 largest campuses in America had student enrollments ranging from 27,000-68,000, not inclusive of faculty and staff. Universities also have complex municipal infrastructure systems including physical plants for power generation, oversight of lighting and environmental systems for hundreds of buildings, independent transportation fleets, and often operate their own police departments and hospitals. These “campus cities” consume substantial resources, spending over $14 billion a year on energy  and they consume resources and generate waste streams equivalent to a small city.

As a sector, higher education is also unique in that it is already firmly committed to carbon reduction goals. In 2006, the American College and University Presidents announced their Climate Commitment initiative. Today, over 672 higher education institutions representing all fifty states have agreed to submit carbon inventories for their campuses and develop carbon neutrality plans.

The voracity of these efforts is further demonstrated by the adoption of 410 climate action plans and a recent agreement to act as the academic partner to the R20 to spread best practices internationally.

Universities are ideally situated as “living laboratories” for experimenting with “smarter” infrastructure with the additional benefit of giving students hands-on experience in deploying new ICT solutions that prepare them for future green-collar jobs.

While there are numerous examples of smarter campuses, the following are illustrative examples of large-scale university sustainability pilots:

  • University of California, San Diego:  UCSD operates a cogeneration facility providing 85% of the power needed for 6 million square feet of facilities, is actively developing middleware to allow the campus microgrid to be integrated with renewables and responsive to energy and carbon prices, deployed submetering building power measurement systems, and integrated microclimate weather stations with building controls systems. 
  • Arizona State University:  ASU has installed 10 megawatts of solar generating power giving it the largest solar facilities on any U.S. campus, launched certification efforts for green offices and laboratories, and implemented an innovative “classified ad” system for campus property promoting maximum reuse. 
  • Cornell University:  Cornell was an early leader in energy efficient building design with requirements for LEED certification of all new +$5M facilities and made substantial investment in a Lake Source Cooling project which decreased carbon emissions by 7.484 metric tons.  


“Enrollment of the 120 largest degree-granting college and university campuses, by selected characteristics and institution:  Fall 2009”, Digest of Education Statistics: 2010, U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences,

  “Higher Education:  An Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Opportunities”, Energy Star, US Environmental Protection Agency,

  “Recycling Programs”, Mid-Atlantic Municipal Solid Waste, US Environmental Protection Agency, October 7, 2011,

  “Signatory List by Institution Name”, American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, and “American College & University President’s Climate Commitment Signing on to be Academic Partner to the R20 Regions of Climate Action Alliance”, Press Release, November 17, 2010,

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