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President's Message

  • Author:
    Lou Anna K. Simon
  • Published:
    Summer 2012

Your university has initiated several energy activities recently that will benefit our students, their families and our stakeholders across Michigan, dovetailing into our program for making MSU a leader in recycling and environmental sustainability.

The cornerstone of our energy activities is the MSU Energy Transition Plan, approved by the Board of Trustees on April 13. A year in the making, the plan calls for energy technology research and development investment, continued progress on energy conservation, and a transition over time to renewable sources of energy.

If you think about energy sustainability and security, you realize that they aren’t just our challenge as a university, but world challenges. These are issues—together with food and water security—that will drive events in the 21st century. These are our opportunities to be part of the solution in a way that reflects our land-grant mission, something to ponder as we look toward the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Act July 2.

We’ve already made significant strides in sustainability and conservation, managing our resources in ways that help keep costs down, thereby keeping higher education more affordable for students and their families.

In addition, MSU’s energy-saving e orts are fostering a positive economic impact by creating private-sector jobs. We use many engineering and consulting firms, most of which are located in Michigan. This proves to be a win-win situation—jobs are created by this need and MSU benefits by getting valuable work done at reasonable rates.

In addition, MSU has been able to create jobs on campus. For example, the team that is doing retro-commissioning work on some MSU facilities recently expanded, adding four new full-time positions, as well as 10 temporary positions.

We estimate that most energy-saving projects will see a payback in approximately seven years.That includes funding the commissioning team that is doing the work, hiring consultants and contractors. Retro-commissioning is underway in more than 100 campus buildings.Recent work on Erickson Hall, for example, has resulted in a 32 percent reduction in energy use.

Recently, MSU became one of seven universities to commit to the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge. As part of the commitment, MSU will reduce energy consumption by 20 percent across 20 million square feet by 2020. Anthony Hall has been named MSU’s showcase project, given its potential for energy savings.

Additional research in alternative energy is underway with a new study to determine whether wind is a viable power source for campus. The university also is investigating the increased use of solar power. Solar panels on the roof of the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center produce about 10 percent of the facility’s electricity. In addition, the MSU Pavilion generates electricity using a solar photovoltaic system.

The new addition to the Life Sciences Building will use geothermal energy sources. Our Power Plant burns biomass as a step toward fewer emissions and cleaner air.

We have a rare opportunity not just to develop new technologies and techniques to promote a sustainable energy posture, but to implement them, test them and measure the human and behavioral elements necessary to build a sustainable society. With the challenges and elements of the municipality we have here—a power plant, distribution infrastructure, a built environment with heavy energy demand—we can be a true living-learning laboratory. We have the capacity to adapt, pilot and validate the solutions we conceive.

This is also an entrepreneurial challenge, as we work to connect great ideas with researchers on campus to develop new technologies and innovations.

Gilbert Sperling, a senior policy adviser for the U.S. Dept. of Energy, joined me and several others in April for a public conversation centered on the Energy Transition Plan. He says, “The transition to a clean energy economy is not just about economics and technology, it is about people. It is about culture.”

Energy and environmental sustainability are interrelated challenges and require holistic, interdisciplinary solutions. These are the kinds of solutions, from the technical to the behavioral, that Team MSU can provide. I encourage you to learn more at


Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.

President, Michigan State University