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Business Intel

September 2018


SUSTAINABILITY

Partnering on Energy Infrastructure

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, generates roughly 80 percent of its electric power on site, with two-thirds of that capacity powered bthe institution’s natural gas combined heat and power plant. During the past two years, Caltech leaders have been hard at work developing a new energy strategic plan, while giving serious thought to how the institution might fundamentally change its energy supply and infrastructure. (Read also “Bright and Breezy” in the May 2018 issue of Business Officer magazine.)

The conversations have included how to fully decarbonize Caltech’s electric grid, according to John Onderdonk, senior director of facilities services and integrated planning, and chief sustainability officer. This might entail retiring Caltech’s co-gen plant and transitioning to off-site procurement of large-scale renewable energy. Yet, because of the intensive heat and steam needed for research activity, one big challenge would be how to otherwise adequately provide those thermal requirements without fossil fuels. 

One option is to move to a hot water system using electricity or solar thermal applications, either of which could also save a tremendous amount of water, notes Onderdonk. “Boiling water with electricity may not be the most efficient or economic solution, but if we are ultimately generating electricity from a fully renewable grid then that may be the best way to decarbonize our thermal requirements as well.” These are the questions with which Caltech leadership is currently grappling.

Caltech is not unique in this regard, notes Onderdonk. “Everyone knows, including utility owners, that the utility business model must change. We need massive evolution in how our country generates and distributes energy supply.” Utilities companies across the country are struggling with that mammoth challenge, believes Onderdonk. He suggests the best way forward is a collaborative approach, where large users in particular can help as a supportive partner with the transition. “One thing we try to be very clear about with our utility is that we see ourselves aligned for the long term. From a sustainability and resilience standpoint, our interest is to have a robust grid that we connect to. We don’t want to be an island,” notes Onderdonk. The question then becomes, what does that customer transaction look like?

While Caltech is at a point of considering specific projects—whether solar, wind, or geothermal, or whether on or off site—it is unlikely that the institution could find the full capacity it needs nearby, notes Onderdonk. “The carbon-free energy we need is literally over the hills, so we need utility companies with large distributed networks to bring it in from outside.”  

That same need bears out for many private sector customers as well. With more corporations setting ambitious goals for shifting energy purchasing to renewable sources, some industry groups are concerned demand could sharply outpace supply—or the capability to deliver supply. According to the Wind Energy Foundation report, Transmission Needed to Meet Corporate America’s Growing Demand for Renewable Power, a significant gap currently exists in the transmission capacity to actually deliver on the 60 GW of renewable energy that more than 100 corporate entities have pledged to purchase by 2025—many through power purchase agreements.

SUBMITTED BY Karla Hignite, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., who is a contributing editor to Business Officer.


The median family in the United States spends $8,320 annually on center-based day care and preschool for its young children.
– U.S. News & World Report

Fast Fact

Quick Clicks

Demand for CAMPUS Bandwidth Increases 

One in three schools now offer 7GB bandwidth or more, and nearly two in three institutions are bringing Wi-Fi to the campus, according to the 2018 ACUHO-I State of ResNet survey. For the first time, smartphones top the list as the largest bandwidth-consuming device with an 11 percent jump over the past year, the study says. Presently, 63.6 percent of institutions offer comprehensive wireless coverage throughout 80 percent or more of the whole campus—a 7.6 percent rise from last year. Over half of all institutions surveyed expect the cost of wireless network services to increase over the next two years. Seventy six percent of business officers have concerns about Wi-Fi management and budgeting, while 65 percent of technology officers worry that capital funding for network infrastructure will impact the way they manage the network.

SMALL FIRMS QUICK TO EMBRACE THE CLOUD 

Smaller, younger firms have been the quickest to take advantage of cloud computing, signaling a potential boon to entrepreneurship, according to research by Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist. The smallest firms across all industries or firm types appear to be the quickest to utilize cloud computing. Firms with less than 25 employees had the highest adoption rates on average—with 10 to 15 percent of them using cloud services. Midsize firms with about 100 employees had the lowest adoption rates, while large firms of 500 employees or more had rates of 5 to 10 percent.


By The Numbers

Subbaccalaureate Education

Source: NCES, Participants in Subbaccalaureate Occupational Education: 2012. Available online at https://tinyurl.com/y8ky4xxa.