Climate change is the environmental issue of our time. The UW is a world-class research center in climate-related topics; in fact climate change’s centrality to our academic life is reflected in a Guiding Principle of this Sustainability Strategy. We’re going to follow through on our sustainability commitment by embarking on a major energy planning process to drastically reduce the Seattle Campus district heating system’s demand for fossil fuels, and reduce our dependence on utility energy with solar photovoltaic power on all our campuses.

This Target is relative to a 2005 baseline, for consistency with Washington State law. All other Targets in the UW Sustainability Plan are relative to a 2020 baseline.

Target actions for 2021

Sustainability plan guiding principles

  •  Ensure students achieve sustainability literacy
  •  Choose our research conscientiously
  •  Keep equity and inclusion at the center
  •  Use resources responsibly
  •  Decarbonize

The UW manages a fleet of more than 700 vehicles and over 100 surface parking areas or garages for commuters and guests, with the potential to host over 14 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic capacity in the form of solar canopies. By 2030, the UW aspires to convert its fleet to all-electric and hybrid- electric vehicles (with the exception of snow plows and other emergency maintenance vehicles), deliver a full complement of vehicle charging equipment for fleet and public use in campus parking facilities and supplement renewable electricity with solar canopies on campus parking facilities.

The estimated 14 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity possible on UW transportation assets could produce approximately 14 gigawatt hours (GWhs) of electricity per year, if fully deployed. About 20 percent of the current UW surface parking area would be required to service an all-electric UW Fleet, potentially offsetting 3.5 million miles travelled, or 2.8 million pounds of CO2e per year. If all 14 MW of potential capacity were realized, the system of solar canopies could power 50 million vehicle miles traveled per year, reducing commuter emissions by about 18,000 metric tons of CO2e per year (about 40% of commuting related emissions).

Steps we will take in FY 2021

  1. Complete and approve a strategy for transitioning the UW Fleet to electric vehicles by 2030, excepting emergency maintenance vehicles. Anticipated completion: December, 2020.

  2. Complete and approve a strategy, including funding mechanisms, to develop electric vehicle charging infrastructure across UW parking facilities by 2030. Anticipated completion: March, 2021.

  3. (concurrent with Step 2) Review and approve a strategy and funding methodology for developing solar canopy infrastructure on campus parking assets by 2030. Anticipated completion: March, 2021.

Responsible party

Transportation Services

Statuses and linkages

Analysis of the opportunity to electrify the UW Seattle fleet and parking services, and capacity for parking to house solar canopies, has been completed, and a report will be released for review in Fall, 2020. The same analysis can be applied to the Bothell and Tacoma campuses in Fall, 2020. There are linkages between these targets and actions, and the goal of reducing commuting to campus via single occupancy vehicle.


Electric vehicles will be gradually added to the UW Fleet as older vehicles are retired. Steps 2 and 3, the development of charging infrastructure and solar canopies respectively, will require capital investment, but can recover cost through surcharges on the electricity delivered to plugged-in EVs. Seed funding will be required for the first two biennia (four years), but thereafter electric sales revenue can be used to continue expanding buildout of chargers and canopies in the form of a revolving fund.

Full buildout of 14 MW of solar is estimated to require a total $28 - $30 million in capital expenditures plus an additional $438,000 for electrical distribution upgrades. Besides the funding stream from electric surcharges, we forecast $46 - 48 million in cost avoidance from vehicle fuels.


Progress toward completion of the Action will be measured by:

  • Percentage of UW fleet vehicles that are plug-in electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be included in the count.
  • GW of charger-connected solar capacity.
  • Percentage of parking spaces having charger access.

This Action can gain points in STARS credits OP-6 Clean & Renewable Energy where UW shows a point gap of 3.93.

The single largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at UW is the central heating & cooling plant on the Seattle Campus. The central plant relies on fossil gas to provide steam heat and related services to over 13 million square feet of building space (136 buildings). Emissions from the central plant have not changed appreciably since 2009, despite the Seattle campus enrollment increasing 12% and building footprint increasing 20% during this time. In fact, on a per-square-foot basis, UW GHG emissions are improving. Yet, to meet greenhouse gas reductions required by Washington state law we will need to radically change the nature of how thermal energy is generated in Seattle.

UW aspires to complete, by December 31, 2021, a Campus Energy Plan that features a pathway for a significant decarbonization of the Seattle campus heating & cooling plant by 2030, or earlier. Development of the plan will be piloted by an Energy Program Manager. During the process of creating the Campus Energy Plan, the Energy Program Manager’s team will consider every possible technology available for achieving the carbon reduction goals while maintaining reliable service – including heat and steam sterilization – to the hospital and other campus buildings.

Besides technological innovation, this project will require financial innovation as well. Modernizing the Seattle campus district heating system will be among UW’s largest capital projects to date, and multiple financing models need to be compared.

Steps we will take in FY 2021

  1. Hire an Energy Program Manager with the engineering and finance qualifications to oversee the heating plant and district energy renewal from start to finish.

  2. Issue an RFP for, and contract, a consultant (owner’s advocate) capable of helping UW select the best mix of technologies for the Seattle campus.

  3. Develop engineering scope and funding pathway for a pilot project to use waste condenser heat from the West Central Utility Plant to reduce steam heating in nearby buildings.

Responsible party

UW Facilities

Statuses and linkages

In March 2020, UW Facilities issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit ideas from experts around the country for planning, building, and financing a low-carbon energy system. These responses are currently being reviewed by the Energy Roadmap Team which includes support from the Engineering Services and UW Sustainability departments.

Several other universities have completed or launched similar projects. Stanford University recently completed a new combined heating and cooling plant that is perceived as a particularly successful example. The new Stanford plant, when combined with solar power procurement, reduced Stanford GHG emissions by about 72 percent from its peak levels.


A thorough review of the engineering and financial options is needed before assigning a budget estimate to such a large scale project. UW is targeting development to start in 2023, with first phase completion in 2028.


  • Completion of each listed FY2021 Step shall serve as the measure of progress during FY2021.

Decarbonization (whether partial or total) of the Seattle campus central heating & cooling system will gain points in STARS credits OP-2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions where UW shows a point gap of 3.91. Depending on the fuel used for energy generation, the project may also gain points toward OP-6 Clean & Renewable Energy where UW shows a point gap of 3.93.