Mission: “To determine opportunities for energy reduction, identify sustainable and renewable alternatives, and promote responsible energy usage across Penn State University’s operations, policies, and experience.”

EV Charging Stations

SSAC EV Charging Station Recommendation Presentation

As of 2016, Penn State purchases most of its electricity from the electric utility grid (a smaller amount is generated on campus in the steam plants).  This presents a challenge for justifying the installation of electric vehicle charging stations on the basis of reducing emissions because, according to the eGrid utility grid database, the largest generation source in Pennsylvania’s electric grid is coal, followed by natural gas and nuclear.  Renewables make up a small fraction of generation.

Although Penn State has a few electric vehicle charging stations for use by OPP, no publicly accessible charging stations are available.  Beginning in 2014, the SSAC began consulting with Penn State’s OPP and Transportation Services to recognize the need for electric vehicle charging stations, formulate how to justify their sustainability (emissions), and develop a plan for implementation.  Throughout the whole process and up to and including today, the administration has been in support of this initiative/policy.  The SSAC recommended an EV Charging Implementation Task Force to develop this plan.  The result was Penn State Policy BS 21 ( – accessible with Penn State Login), developed by Transportation Services, OPP, the SSAC, and the Student Transportation Commission.

The key advantage of Policy BS 21 was that it mandates a sustainable source of electricity and supporting business policy for any potential EV charging station installation.  This means that the upstream emissions associated with the utility grid can be avoided.  This is in line with Penn State’s emissions reduction goals laid out in by the Penn State Energy Conservation Policy Advisory Committee and adopted university-wide (see  BS 21 also established an Electric Vehicle Committee comprised of members from Transportation Services, OPP, the Sustainability Institute, and a student representative from the Student Transportation Commission (SSAC has two representatives on the Student Transportation Commission).  This Electric Vehicle Committee meets to review proposals for EV charging stations on campus to ensure they meet the criteria described above.

Policy BS 21 was officially adopted September 21, 2015.  Since then, the Electric Vehicle Committee has met several times to discuss potential projects including an EV installation for Penn State Information Technology Services (ITS) and the first EV Station open to the public, currently in consideration for one of the parking decks on campus.

The SSAC’s most recent developments with this initiaive includes a recommendation for a construction policy that would mandate consideration of preliminary conduit/wiring infrastructure installations during construction/renovation of parking lots and similar projects for future EV charging stations.  The basis behind this recommendation is the fact that generally, the largest cost of EV charging station installations are not the charging stations themselves, but rather the conduit/wiring and the ground digging required to run those utilities to the parking spots where the stations would be located.  During renovations/construction of buildings and parking lots, this extra digging and laying of conduit can be avoided if it is completed when the ground is already dug up.

Future foreseeable developments to this initiative include the possibility for applying economies of scale to open up the possibility for more EV charging stations by way of the installation of a large scale solar array.  This array (or any large renewable energy source) is being considered as part of the next step for Penn State’s emissions reduction plan, following the recently completed conversion of the West Campus Steam Plant from coal to natural gas.  Such an array would allow for customers and users to charge their vehicles for a price that is below the equivalent amount of gasoline, even when applying the current payback period of 10 years (no exception for longer payback period required).


Electricity Restructuring/Carbon Taxing

Currently, OPP is responsible for the large majority of campus’s electricity bill, which leaves facility users and departments no direct financial incentive to reduce energy usage.  An electricity restructuring would involve the decentralization of the electric utility costs (and funds to support those costs) from OPP to the various departments within Penn State.  This decentralization would directly incentivize the reduction of electricity, which can lead to proactive energy-saving developments such as:

  • Occupancy sensors in rooms
  • LED lighting conversions
  • Window, door, and insulation retrofits and renovations
  • Consolidation of individual servers to the central campus data center

It is important to note that these developments are being undertaken by OPP in a number of instances on campus; however, generally these developments due to retroactively identified energy wasting practices.  There are too many opportunities for energy savings around campus for OPP to proactively identify all of them with limited manpower.  Electricity restructuring would allow Penn State departments to identify and pursue opportunities for electricity usage reductions, which will increase the savings of money and energy.

Carbon taxing would be very similar to what is described above, but the details are a bit different.  With a university-wide carbon taxing policy, Penn State would save money internally due to the reductions in energy usage, and would be better prepared financially when carbon taxing is established at the national or state level in the future.  See the figure below – the green area represents the money saved if Penn State decides to implement a carbon taxing strategy before a federally mandated carbon tax is initiated.

carbon tax

SSAC’s research led to Yale, which has implemented an internal carbon tax recently.  Yale has started their carbon taxing initiative by taxing energy (electricity and fuel), and is looking to further research and implement other sources of emissions, including indirect Scope 3 emissions.  Possibilities for Penn State include:

  • Departmental rebates equal to the price of carbon & energy saved
  • Departmental utility bills that are subject to rebates and charges, relative to a baseline energy usage

Interactive Energy Display Boards

The SSAC has recommended to make it a goal of the university for the 2016 – 2017 academic year to engage students in their energy usage.  This has led to energy display boards to be considered.  This recommendation is preliminary, but the SSAC plans to conduct further research on this topic.

Energy display boards have the potential to be a tremendous educational tool to educate students in real-time about their energy usage while simultaneously reducing university energy usage.  Possible installations sites include individual dorms and residence areas.  The SSAC identified areas of research and action that can be pursued to set the groundwork for future implementation of an energy display board program:

  • Begin storing and sorting relevant data (OPP)
  • Involve class capstones and research (IST, Engineering, Graphic Design, Psychology, etc.)

Following the innovation of other universities, Penn State can implement a graphical display of energy usage in dorms and residence areas that encourages students to reduce their energy usage.  Such a display can show the Nittany Lion on solid ground when energy usage is down, and also show the Nittany Lion suffering the effects of rising sea levels due to global warming when energy usage is not reduced.

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