Energy at Duke


Energy at Duke Overview

Duke University provides electricity, steam for heating, and chilled water for cooling buildings around campus. The steam and chilled water are produced on campus by Duke’s two steam plants and two chilled water plants. Nearly all electricity used on campus is purchased from Duke Energy, North Carolina’s main electricity provider. The University’s annual energy use is almost evenly split between electricity and natural gas. All energy used on campus accounts for nearly 65% of total campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as seen in the chart below.

Campus Initiatives

Due to the large impact of energy use on campus, Duke’s Facilities Management Department has emphasized sustainability goals in its work, which has led to a 36% reduction, nearly 100,000 metric tons, in energy-related GHG emissions since 2007.

To accomplish the nearly 40% decrease in energy emissions, Duke has worked aggressively to increase the efficiency of campus buildings, educate the Duke community about ways to reduce their energy use, and upgrade central heating and cooling plants.













Steam on campus used to be generated mostly through the burning of coal in Duke’s steam plants. In 2011, Duke ended the use of coal in on-campus steam plants leading to a large decrease in energy emissions. Today, the steam plants combust natural gas, with the hopes to convert steam generation to biogas in the future.

Buildings on campus are always being looked at to find ways to reduce their energy use. With tweaks to heating and cooling needs, upgrades to lighting fixtures, and installment of more efficient equipment, Duke has increased building efficiency by 12%.

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Solar Energy 

Duke harnesses 900 kW of solar energy via solar panels (PV cells) located at the Smart Home, Grainger Hall and Research Drive Parking Garage

In addition, Duke has invested in solar water heaters which are located in the Bryan Center as well as Grainger Hall. 

Based on current North Carolina regulations, Duke University is limited in its capacity to develop solar both on- and off-campus. Duke plans to develop more solar on campus before 2024, but there is a limit of 5 megawatts of solar PV on campus based on state legislation. Duke also has plans to develop large-scale, off-site solar and animal-waste derived biogas in the coming years to further reduce emissions. Both of which are dependent on availability, financial ability, and legislation.

To learn more about these regulatory limits, please read a fuller explanation in Duke's Climate Action Plan Update.

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Photo: 750 kilowatt solar installation on Duke's Research Drive parking garage. 

Biogas: Harnessing the Power of Waste

Due to the significant supply of animal waste in North Carolina, Duke University has been exploring the potential of how biogas and renewable natural gas (RNG) from biogas can help Duke meet its climate neutrality commitment and energy needs. Duke University began its research in biogas in 2010 with the Loyd Ray Farms swine waste-to-energy project in Yadkinville, NC. This project captures the methane generated by the decomposition of the animal waste to create renewable electricity and carbon offsets. Building off of the successes at Loyd Ray Farms, Duke is now looking to expand this work on other animal farms in North Carolina with the goal of using the generated renewable natural gas in on campus steam plants to displace the use of the natural gas currently used.

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Developing biogas infrastructure in North Carolina has the potential to greatly reduce Duke University's emissions by 2024. Depending on the amount of biogas used by Duke University (and the associated carbon offsets from generation), Duke could become carbon neutral by 2024 or even become a net carbon sink.


Adopting biogas as a renewable energy source could have a massive impact on Duke's reduction of emissions. Biogas is displayed as the light blue wedge above the dark blue.