District energy supports higher education climate plans and journeys to 100% carbon neutrality


With approximately 5,300 colleges and universities in the U.S., there is a significant opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of campus buildings and the communities they operate in. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, higher education campuses consume approximately 18.9 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 17 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot of floor space yearly, equating to significant carbon footprints and high energy costs.

In recent years, more than 330 universities and colleges have established climate action plans with aggressive targets, including becoming 100% carbon-neutral campuses by 2050 or sooner. To realize these ambitious goals, these institutions need to reduce building emissions and optimize energy efficiency while maintaining reliability with their energy solution.

Consisting of hundreds of academic buildings, medical centers, dormitories, and lab spaces, many university campuses are nestled in urban areas close to Vicinity’s district energy systems. Several major universities in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, West Virginia, and other cities have long histories of relying on district energy for heating, cooling, lab processes, and humidification control.

Vicinity currently provides steam and chilled water to 23 higher education campuses, totaling over 32 million square feet of building space. These academic institutions use district energy to keep their campuses operating smoothly and leverage district energy to underscore their commitment to improving the world, combatting climate change, and fulfilling their sustainability missions. These efforts ultimately help attract sustainability-minded students and enable the universities to gain national attention for their impressive sustainability accomplishments.

Why district energy is a trusted solution

Vicinity partners with higher education institutions to explore opportunities for energy efficiency improvement and strategies to meet carbon neutrality. In collaboration with the universities’ facilities teams, Vicinity helps optimize their campuses’ energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprints with reliable district steam, tailored preventative maintenance programs, and training sessions. eSteamTM, Vicinity’s carbon-free renewable energy product, is an innovative solution for universities and colleges with the most aggressive carbon reduction goals, ensuring they are on the fastest track to eliminate their campus’ carbon emissions.

In particular, Emerson College leverages eSteamTM to not only achieve the City of Boston’s carbon emissions reduction targets established as part of BERDO 2.0 but also achieve its own sustainability goals, which are even more aggressive than the city’s mandate. With eSteamTM, Emerson is on a streamlined path to a carbon-neutral and resilient campus by 2030.

Continuous improvement drives reliability and efficiency

Vicinity and many of our higher education customers have worked closely together over the years to drive improvements at Vicinity’s central facilities and on their campuses. As Vicinity upgrades our central district energy facilities, higher education customers immediately reap the benefits, including improved reliability and reduced carbon emissions.

As Vicinity continues to upgrade our central district energy facilities with electric boilers, heat pumps, and thermal storage as part of our Clean Energy Future commitment, district energy will further align with schools’ climate action goals. While we are first kicking off our electrification plans in Boston and Cambridge to support schools like Emerson College, we are rolling out these upgrades to our other locations. Emerson and other schools’ climate action goals highlight their commitment to a cleaner future, and their notable progress towards reducing their impact on the planet through district energy underscores their bold leadership in a climate-uncertain world.

Proactive maintenance supported by Vicinity’s experts 

Vicinity partners with schools to improve their operations by offering training tailored to the unique needs of the facilities teams and providing operations and maintenance support. Vicinity’s onsite training equips the facilities teams with the tools to proactively maintain their equipment and prevent interruptions in service, which is especially critical for medical campuses. Topics include steam trap inspections, pressure regulating valves (PRVs), and other critical equipment.

District energy for critical campus operations 

Our energy solutions for higher education facilities are reliable and green, helping advance the innovations that propel our customers and communities forward and protect the world we live in.

  • Increased reliability and sustainability – Without the burden of onsite combustion or maintaining chillers or boilers, district energy is a safer and more sustainable alternative. We have a 99.99% reliability guarantee and a team of over 450 energy experts, allowing you to focus on your work while we ensure 24/7 energy delivery.
  • Optimal sterilization and humidification – The CDC recommends steam sanitation over conventional sanitation methods. Vicinity can provide a safer, more environmentally friendly energy solution to keep your educational workspaces and laboratories primed for innovation.
  • Uninterrupted energy supply – Proper operations and maintenance (O&M) of energy infrastructure is essential to ensuring that campus buildings, including dormitories, laboratories, and research facilities, can rely on an uninterrupted thermal energy supply.
  • Remote monitoring – If your campus needs energy O&M support by a qualified engineer but does not require someone full-time onsite, we can provide remote monitoring of your energy infrastructure at our innovative control centers.
  • Energy efficiency and optimization – From efficiency assessments and investments to project implementation, our experts will create and provide a custom energy strategy to optimize your campus energy assets and provide solutions that drive energy efficiency.

Get started with district energy today to decarbonize your campus’ buildings and access reliable, uninterrupted service.

Learn more about our electrification plan in our white paper.

Vicinity Energy White Paper - Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability

Pamela Clark

Pamela Clark serves as Vicinity's Chief Commercial Officer. She writes about topics relating to the decarbonization of our cities, a clean energy future, and the power of district energy.