Higher ed gets schooled on renewable energy

Higher education has some seriously high aspirations – developing one gigawatt of clean energy, roughly enough to power about 300,000 average homes – by 2020. Luckily, there’s also a new way to help reach this goal. The growing cost-effectiveness of long-term contracts for renewable energy resources is creating opportunities for colleges and universities to scale up renewables while lowering their energy costs. This is a huge development for the more than 600 institutions that have pledged to work toward carbon neutrality.


The Green Gigawatt Partnership (GGP) helps knock down the obstacles schools face when they enter into these agreements. It also spotlights the success of universities, like Cornell and Ohio State, who join a growing cohort of other institutions the GGP recognizes for having signed large, long term contracts to purchase green power.

A green Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is a commitment by a large energy user to buy power from a specific renewable energy project for a long period time. This contract provides developers the confidence needed to finance and construct their projects. As the productivity of wind turbines continues to rise and the cost of solar panels has dropped, electricity from these projects can now compete against conventional power from fossil fuels. PPA’s also provide security from future fossil fuel price fluctuations.

Any college or university in North America that has signed, or has committed to pursue, a PPA to purchase at least one megawatt of green power for at least five years is eligible to join the GGP. In return, the GPP provides recognition, training and information.

Although many schools are adept at sourcing conventional energy in short contracts, the renewable energy market can be difficult to navigate for first-time purchasers. After executing several power purchase agreements while I was the Director of Sustainability at American University, I know what it feels like to confront a complex web of renewable energy options. It is great to be in a position to help other institutions through this process.

Higher education is joining a broader trend of new renewable energy customers. Corporate purchasers, including Amazon and Microsoft, and U.S. cities like Washington, DC, all increased their investment in low-cost wind power during the third quarter of 2015 by signing PPAs.

By entering into PPA’s, colleges and universities demonstrate they are serious about protecting the future for which they prepare their students. They help to preserve both the environment, and increasingly, their own financial sustainability. From students to administrators, that’s something we can all celebrate.