Decoding Design

University of Utah recognized in Obama's $4b energy plan

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Obama named Utah as one of five universities invited to become inaugural partners in the White House and the United States Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge.

Last month, SmartPlanet featured a Q&A with Brenda Scheer, dean of the University of Utah College of Architecture + Planning (CA+P) about the school's plans to give their clunky building an energy upgrade.

Their goal, admirable but tricky, may be closer than they thought. Today, the University received some good news: President Obama named Utah as one of five universities invited to become inaugural partners in the White House and the United States Department of Energy's (DoE) Better Buildings Challenge. The $4 billion initiative from Washington is dedicated to help update both pubic and private buildings and is sure to help push plans along and inspire more funding.

The Better Buildings Challenge, an initiative designed to stimulate the economy by encouraging energy savings, hopes to make American buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. Also, about 60 CEOS, university administrations and labor leaders committed an additional $2 billion of private money into energy-efficient projects.

Plans for the architecture building, a cement energy-hog in the middle of campus, were highlighted in the presidential press release.  Rather than tearing down the structure and starting over, the university, as described in detail by Scheer, has slated the building for a net zero retrofit.

This is not the project's first time being recognized by the DoE. In 2010, the building was selected to participate in its Commercial Building Partnership, that gives the university technical assistance from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that is working with the school on plans for the remodel.

Similarly, in 2008, Utah signed on to the American College and University President's Climate Commitment, to work towards net zero emissions on campuses, and a statement released in 2010 as part of the Energy and Environmental Stewardship Initiative stated that goal was for the campus to be carbon neutral by 2050.

In a statement released by Utah today, Scheer was quoted as saying that  “from the beginning, we have envisioned the net zero project as a living laboratory for students, faculty and professionals to engage in education, research and hands-on experience to create energy efficient buildings. There are thousands of buildings like ours in the U.S., and we hope the visibility and support from the Better Building Challenge will provide a model for the entire country.”

Not only was the CA+P's net zero plan recognized, but the university was also commended for campus-wide commitments to achieving energy efficiency. Last May, the Environmental Protection Agency ranked the university as third in its list of colleges and universities that were "green power partners" due to the university's voluntary purchase of 85 million kilowatt hours of green electricity, renewable energy and solar panel installations.

According to the White House press release, " The University is embracing sophisticated and purposeful strategies that produce replicable results for their facilities, and any similar facilities throughout the country, and will work with the Department of Energy through Recovery Act funding in 2010 on a new net-zero project, rehabilitating the existing College of Architecture + Planning Building.  The University of Utah plans to build on the success of this relationship by improving their entire building portfolio through the Better Buildings Challenge."

Stay tuned for more information on the buildings selected by the White House for the Challenge. SmartPlanet will continue to follow the developments of this unique project.

More from SmartPlanet on today's announcement: Inside Obama's $4B energy efficiency plan

[University of Utah/White House]
Images: Paul Richer/Richer Images

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Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure