This College Wants To Be Fossil Fuel Free By 2019

A government mandate has forced the community college system to upgrade their energy systems, but they've actually been wanting to do it for decades, anyway.


Nov. 19 2020, Updated 9:38 p.m. ET

Hawaii has been making huge strides when it comes to walking away from a carbon footprint. The state recently pledged that by 2045, they will make all the vehicles on their roads that provide private or public transportation powered by completely renewable fuel sources.

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Now, Fast Company reports that the Hawaii Legislature and the University of Hawaii system have paired together for a new goal. They want to make all of their college campuses, ten in all, completely "net zero" by 2035. That would mean each campus would produce as much renewable energy as it uses. One of their campuses is so close, they think they'll hit the goal by 2019. Which one? None other than Maui College.

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Maui College boasts a solar array that covers the whole campus. It generates power that they store in battery packs, a system designed by tech and energy company, Johnson Controls. The University of Hawaii has actually been working on becoming less wasteful and more energy efficient since the 1980s. The man who now serves as Associate Vice President to the University network, Michael Unebasami, was first approached by an energy company when he was working as a Director of Administrative Services at Leeward Community College in Honolulu decades ago.

The company offered Unebasami a performance contract. That means they agreed to pay for upgrades to things like water-saving and optimized lighting, but receive their own payment out of the amount of money saved by the upgrades. Unebasami liked the idea, but couldn't get the support he needed to implement it, and shelved the concept. It took a long time, but in 2010, the concept of performance contracting had become extremely popular, and the state of Hawaii actually mandated that government agencies start doing it.

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Unebasami’s contacted the director of facilities to start working on the project for UH, and it ended up solving a couple problems at once. The University had been in need of upgrades in general; there was a lot of run-down equipment, including the heating and cooling systems on campus. The performance contract made it possible to upgrade these systems even without the budget for it.

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Johnson Controls ultimately won the bid to be UH's contractors. Maui College is almost at 100 percent energy efficiency, and it's projected that other campuses in the UH network will soon have a 70 to 98 percent fossil-fuel energy use reduction. It should also save them an estimated $78 million. 

There's more: Unebasami says Johnson Controls has paired with the community college to establish an internship program, as well as classes for faculty and students who want to learn more about building this sort of technology. Soon they won't need to contract outside the university at all!

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