Power Play: New Partnership Accelerates WPI’s Efforts to Reduce Its Carbon Footprint
WPI has formed a 40-year partnership with Chicago-based investment management firm Harrison Street that will provide $45 million for the university’s strategic initiatives and accelerate work to reduce WPI’s carbon footprint by expanding energy-conservation measures, improving WPI’s power plant, and developing sustainable energy technologies for the WPI campus.
The partnership also will lead to new research opportunities for students and faculty.
Under the agreement, Harrison Street will become the exclusive energy supplier to WPI. The firm will lease, manage, operate, develop, and finance the university’s campus utility system. A second company, Cogen Power Technologies of Latham, New York, will operate WPI’s campus power plant.
Harrison Street will pay $45 million up front to WPI and, over the course of the partnership, collaborate with WPI faculty and students on research projects to create opportunities for hands-on learning on campus.
“As a university committed to the application of knowledge and research toward solving the world’s most challenging problems, we want to be at the forefront of developing, implementing, and transitioning to clean technologies,” says Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, interim president. “We must also ensure that we are contributing to climate change solutions. This partnership allows us to do both.”
Harrison Street and WPI will begin improvements to campus buildings in early 2023, the start of a multi-phased approach toward strategic energy conservation measures. Improvements could include new windows and LED lighting in campus buildings, optimization of heating and cooling systems, and the installation of solar panels on some campus buildings.
In addition, Harrison Street and WPI will consider projects that could include developing microgrids for the campus and pursuing alternative energy technologies, such as geothermal systems.
“WPI is a community that is constantly figuring out how to do things better, and I am particularly proud of this partnership because it allows WPI to focus on its own sustainability goals, while also providing opportunities for teaching, learning, and research,” says Michael Horan, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “WPI’s campus will further lean into being an impressive living laboratory while producing innovations, expertise, and well-prepared graduates who will help the rest of the world.”
WPI’s partnership with Harrison Street reflects the university’s ongoing commitment to achieve carbon neutrality in its operations. WPI adopted its first Sustainability Plan in 2014 and later updated the plan for 2020-2025. In early 2022, WPI partnered with other colleges and universities through Second Nature to address climate change.
“An important objective in WPI’s sustainability plan is to reduce impacts on the environment by increasing the university’s energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to achieve carbon neutrality,” says Paul Mathisen, associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, and WPI director of sustainability. “This partnership with Harrison Street includes energy-efficiency controls and creative ideas to meet WPI’s objectives. By engaging faculty, staff, and students, the agreement also advances academic, research, and community engagement goals in our sustainability plan.”
To support WPI’s vision of a campus that acts as a living laboratory for sustainable-energy research, Harrison Street will contribute to a fund for student research initiatives. Project-based research is a cornerstone of undergraduate education at WPI, and it encourages students to apply technology to solve global challenges, such as climate change. In addition, Harrison Street will offer internship opportunities to WPI students.
“WPI’s research enterprise has been growing considerably over the past few years, and a common theme is that the application of knowledge and expertise helps people live better lives and makes the world a better, more sustainable place,” says Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for research. “This partnership with Harrison Street assures some impressive opportunities for long-term research. I believe it will inspire different and potentially important paths to discovery and learning.”