UML to Assess Future Energy Needs, Advance Carbon Reduction Goals with $100K Award

University officials pose for a photo at the Leading by Example award ceremony at the State House Image by Ed Brennen
UMass Lowell, which received a Leading Example Award from the Department of Energy Resources last December, has now won a $100,000 grant from the state agency to fund a campus-wide renewable energy master plan.

By Ed Brennen

Backed by a $100,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, UMass Lowell is conducting a campus-wide renewable energy study to take stock of its current infrastructure and map its path to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

The study, funded by the Leading by Example Clean Energy Grant Program, will be used to develop a renewable energy master plan at UML. The plan will identify and prioritize projects that can help the university meet its future energy demands — while also meeting the commonwealth’s mandated target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

As a signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, UML has committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

“It’s going to be a well-rounded study that gives us a clear picture of where we’re headed,” says UML Energy Manager Dan Abrahamson. “It will create a portfolio of alternative energy opportunities to help us hit our goals in ways that are resilient, cost-effective and sustainable.”

The university chose BR+A Consulting Engineers to conduct the study. The Boston-based firm will spend the next six months evaluating the university’s existing energy infrastructure, from metering and data management systems, to on-site electricity and steam production, to individual building performance. 

Most of the work will be done remotely using the university’s Campus Viewer and building management system, Automated Logic. 

From the assessment, BR+A will propose projects that advance energy production, distribution and efficiency on campus — as well as opportunities for student and faculty research in the fields of renewable energy and energy management.

While UML has made substantial strides toward carbon neutrality in recent years through projects like the Accelerated Energy Program and the installation of solar arrays and electric vehicle charging stations, “a lot of the low-hanging fruit is starting to disappear,” Abrahamson says. “Bringing in an engineering firm to help us identify larger projects that we can prioritize and prepare for will put us in a good position going forward.”

Abrahamson adds that the state is putting an increased emphasis on energy resilience in its buildings.

“Being able to keep the campus running during emergency events, relying on itself rather than the grid, is good for us,” he says.

Given how much the campus has grown over the past decade, Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony says the renewable energy master plan is coming just in time.

“We’ve been so focused on energy efficiency and getting the right energy contracts in place, which are obviously important,” O’Mahony says. “This is the next iteration of it: How do we really move the needle in terms of renewables?”

UMass Dartmouth and Salem State University also received $100,000 grants through the Leading by Example program.

“Our administration is pleased to help these universities build on the progress they are making to protect the environment and achieve net zero emissions on their campuses,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in announcing the grants. “State universities continue to take meaningful steps toward greater sustainability to help the commonwealth maintain its national leadership in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”