Energy at Duke University


Duke University provides electricity, steam for heating, and chilled water for cooling buildings around campus. The steam and chilled water are produced on campus by Duke’s two steam plants and two chilled water plants. Nearly all electricity used on campus is purchased from Duke Energy, North Carolina’s main electricity provider. All energy used on campus accounts for nearly 65% of total campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as seen in the chart below.

Duke FY16 Emissions by Type
Duke FY16 Emissions by Type

Due to the large impact of energy use on campus, Duke’s Facilities Management Department has emphasized sustainability goals in its work, which has led to a 36% reduction, nearly 100,000 metric tons, in energy-related GHG emissions since 2007.

Campus Initiatives

To accomplish the nearly 40% decrease in energy emissions, Duke has worked aggressively to increase the efficiency of campus buildings, educate the Duke community about ways to reduce their energy use, and upgrade central heating and cooling plants.

photo of Duke University's East Campus steam plant
Duke University's East Campus steam plant

Steam on campus used to be generated mostly through the burning of coal in Duke’s steam plants. In 2011, Duke ended the use of coal in on-campus steam plants leading to a large decrease in energy emissions. Today, the steam plants now combust natural gas, with the hopes to convert steam generation to biogas in the future.

Buildings on campus are always being looked at to find ways to reduce their energy use. With tweaks to heating and cooling needs, upgrades to lighting fixtures, and installment of more efficient equipment, Duke has increased building efficiency by 12%. Most recently, with the help of students from the Pratt School of Engineering and Facilities Management Department, Hudson Hall is piloting an LED retrofit project, which is estimated to save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next 10 years.

Photo of Hudson Hall
Hudson Hall was retrofitted in 2017 with LED lighting.

Combined Heat and Power Plant

In 2016, Duke University stated that it intended to partner with Duke Energy to build a Combined Heat and Power plant on Duke University’s campus. This CHP Plant would be owned by Duke Energy, and Duke University would purchase the waste-heat from the energy generation to serve as another source of steam for campus heating. Due to concern from Duke and local communities, a special subcommittee of the Campus Sustainability Committee convened to review the project with focus on environmental, economic, and community impact from the potential project. The CHP subcommittee developed a report that was shared with Duke University’s administration and Board of Trustees in May of 2017, which urged further investigation into the project, particularly on the aspects of procuring biogas to fuel the plant, before continuing the planning process.

Future of Energy at Duke

As Duke University continues work on its Climate Action Plan, the focus for the 2016-17 academic year was updating the energy portion of the CAP, including reviewing progress to-date, changes to assumptions that impact emissions, and consideration of new technologies, initiatives, and policies that could allow for even more aggressive on-campus reductions.

Duke will build upon the reductions in energy emissions achieved since 2007 and aggressively pursue energy efficiency strategies in new and existing buildings, central utility improvements and renewable energy technologies where feasible. With or without the proposed CHP plant, Duke will continue to reduce energy-related emissions on campus with strategies such as expanding LED lighting upgrades, building HVAC optimization, chilled water system improvements, hot water conversion and renewables such as solar thermal.

Photo of mockup of parking garage 9 solar
One of Duke's LEED parking garages is slated to have solar installed on the top floor.