Home » UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley

  • Of the 10 campuses with a methane-burning plant, Berkeley is at the forefront because its gas plant is in urgent need of replacement.
  • The main option under consideration by campus administrators (called “Option 12”) would make substantial investments in new fossil-fuel infrastructure: not only would the existing gas turbine and generator be refurbished, but a new gas turbine and generator would be constructed to supplement the existing one.
  • The alternative (e.g., “Option 11c”) would be to fully electrify campus, driving carbon emissions to zero.
  • What is preventing UC Berkeley from fully electrifying? Only political will and about $1.5 million to fund the making of detailed plans.

  • Background: UC Berkeley gets most of its electricity and all of its steam (for heating and cooling) from a gas plant located on campus between Evans Diamond and Eucalyptus Grove. That gas plant is responsible for the vast majority of UC Berkeley’s emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
  • Since the gas plant is nearing the end of its life, UC Berkeley commissioned the consulting company Arup to study options for its replacement, accounting for carbon emissions. The resulting 2015 Arup report (Arup, 2015) presented eleven options (0 through 10). Option 8 would fully electrify campus by replacing the gas plant with an electric boiler: clean electricity would be purchased from PG&E both for use by buildings and to power the electric boiler, which would make steam to distribute through the existing steam lines. This would be a plug-and-play replacement for the gas plant that would fully electrify campus.
  • After the 2015 Arup report, it was discovered that Option 8 will not work: the electric boiler would draw electricity at a greater rate than can be supplied to campus through the Hill Substation. Located in the hills overlooking campus (within Lawrence Berkeley Lab), the Hill Substation is campus’ sole source of PG&E electricity.
  • In the 2019 Arup report (Arup, 2019), Arup presented a new plan for fully electrifying campus, Option 11c, which had a low life-cycle cost and zero carbon emissions. Option 11c would fully electrify campus by replacing the gas plant with centralized electric heat pumps. Those heat pumps, which require less electricity than the boilers, would make hot and cold water to be stored in large tanks and distributed by pipes to buildings for heating and cooling.
  • Just weeks after the 2019 Arup report was finalized, campus experienced its first loss of power from PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). During these PSPS events, campus engineers demonstrated that they could disconnect campus from the electric grid and keep campus powered using its gas plant.
  • Pointing to the resilience provided by the gas plant during power outages, UC Berkeley instructed ARUP to go back to the drawing board. What resulted was a new report that Arup finalized on July 21, 2020 (Arup, 2020). That report gave no consid- eration to providing resilience through load shedding, on-site solar, and batteries. Instead, Arup presented Option 12, which became administrators’ preferred plan for the future of the campus energy system. Although it would electrify the north side of campus, Option 12 would keep the gas plant running, providing steam to the south side of campus and selling electricity to the grid.
  • On October 12 and 14, 2020, representatives of the UC-wide petition (calling for UC to decarbonize; http://bit.ly/newenergyplan) requested a meeting with Chancellor Carol Christ. The Chancellor agreed to a meeting and the meeting took place on November 5, 2020. Also in attendance were the Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services Sally McGarrahan (AVC McGarrahan oversees campus energy systems and commissions reports from Arup), Chief Sustainability Officer Kira Stoll (CSO Stoll oversees Berkeley’s implementation of UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative), and Vice Chancellor of Administration Marc Fisher (VC Fisher oversees AVC McGarrahan and CSO Stoll). Three requests were made:
    • A commitment from the Chancellor to develop a shovel-ready plan for full electrification.
    • The public release of the Arup reports to facilitate community engagement and dialogue.
    • Semi-annual updates from Facilities/Arup on progress towards full electrification.

In response:

  1. No commitment was made regarding a shovel-ready plan for full electrification.
  2. Heavily redacted versions of the Arup reports were posted online, linked to from UCB sustainability). The 2015 report had 108 pages redacted (the table of contents and sections 2-12), the 2019 report had 76 pages redacted (the table of contents and appendices A-E), and the 2020 report had 38 pages redacted (the table of contents and appendices A-D).
  3. AVC McGarrahan, CSO Stoll, and VC Fisher scheduled a public presentation for De- cember 8, 2020.
  • On December 8, 2020, AVC McGarrahan, CSO Stoll, and VC Fisher gave a public presentation (via Zoom) attended by over 100 people. Option 12 was presented as the leading candidate for the future of campus’ energy systems. It was said that Option 12 would provide the needed resilience to power outages while dramatically reducing campus carbon emissions (the 2020 Arup study claims a 92% reduction). Questions were posed to the presenters, including the following:
    •  Option 12 would keep the gas plant running and providing steam to half of campus; how, then, is such a large reduction in carbon emissions possible?
    •  Most gas plants cannot be operated at such a small fraction of their designed capacity; is our gas plant capable of doing this?
    •  The decision to pursue Option 12 (keep the gas plant running) versus Option 11c (fully electrify campus) was made on the assumption that the gas plant is needed to keep campus running almost as usual during a power outage, but no study has been done of campus’ minimum power requirements; what is campus’ minimum required load (e.g., for animal enclosures and research freezers)?

Answers to these questions were not known.

  • On February 26, 2021, Professor David Romps met with AVC McGarrahan, CSO Stoll, and representatives from Arup to get clarity on the questions raised during the December 8, 2020 presentation. The following new information (not contained in reports or presentations) was learned from this conversation:
    • Option 12 would make a substantial investment in new fossil-fuel infrastructure. In addition to refurbishing the current gas turbine and generator, Option 12 would procure and install a second gas turbine and generator to handle the larger range of electrical loads caused by only partially electrifying the campus.
    • Given the new investments in the gas plant, there would be nothing to prevent future administrators from powering campus with cheap gas for decades to come.

SUMMARY: UC Berkeley’s gas plant currently provides electricity and steam to campus, but is in need of replacement. The current gas plant is among the dirtiest ways to power and heat/cool a campus, but there are readily available alternatives. For electricity, campus could purchase clean electricity from PG&E. For heating and cooling, campus could use heat pumps – powered by clean electricity – to move heat from one tank of water to another, generating hot and cold water for distribution to buildings by pipes (as is done at Stanford). Instead, UC Berkeley is tentatively planning on making large investments in new fossil-fuel infrastructure. The argument in favor of these fossil-fuel investments is that the campus needs resilience to power outages, but “resilience” has not been defined (how much power for how long?) and no serious consideration has been given to alternative sources of backup power (e.g., solar panels and battery storage).


  • Arup, 2015: Energy delivery options: Final report. Job number 243378, Arup North America Ltd, 560 Mission Street, Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94105.
  • Arup, 2019: Campus energy plan: Final report. Job number 267147, Arup North America Ltd, 560 Mission Street, Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94105.
  • Arup, 2020: Campus energy plan: Additional options analysis. Job number 267147, Arup North America Ltd, 560 Mission Street, Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94105.


“The decarbonization of UC is a critically important issue, not just because of the harm that UC currently causes by burning gas, but because of the insidious nature of the carbon-offset fantasy, which has lulled many people into thinking that we can continue to burn fossil fuels because someone else (someone whose work is not quite so “important”) can reduce their fossil-fuel use on our behalf. To stop global warming, we must electrify everything — and that includes UC.”


“UC can be a leader in decarbonizing campus energy systems by transitioning rapidly to 100% clean electricity. The economics makes sense with low borrowing costs combined with lower long-run energy costs. Plus the campuses can build clean energy microgrids that allow them to smoothly go offline during power shutdowns. The transition from toxic fossil fuel energy to renewable energy also provides local jobs and decreases air pollution from natural gas operations near where many of our students live.”


“The science is now clear that California and the UC must decarbonise their energy systems and financial systems much more rapidly than California Senate Bill 100 requires. To fail to do this is to commit a crime against the planet and to commit an act of environmental racism against communities of color that bear the brunt of the damages of climate change. It is time for UC to align its actions with its recent declaration of a climate emergency”