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Renewable Energy

A large campus like UW Oshkosh uses a lot of energy for electricity, heating, cooling, and transportation.  Our goal is to meet our energy needs through renewable sources such as biomass fuels, geothermal, solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, and wind.

Energy conservation is our first strategy, because it reduces the amount of energy we need to do what we do. In today's economy the cheapest kilowatts and therms are the ones you don't have to use.

Wind Power

Currently, wind is the largest source of renewable energy at UWO. We get our wind energy through Wisconsin Public Service's NatureWise Program.  In 2003, we started with a purchase of 3% of our electricity from green sources, mostly wind power.  At the time, UW Oshkosh was the largest buyer of green power in the state.  Today, we get about 23% of our electricity from renewable sources: 13% through NatureWise and 10% from a state purchase of wind power.  We have been a member of the EPA's Green Power Partnership since 2003, winning awards as the largest purchaser in our athletic conference.


Solar Power

UW Oshkosh has also been installing solar energy technologies on the campus.  In 2010, UW Oshkosh installed the first photovoltaic panels to generate electricity on campus. Learn how many watts per hour the panels are currently generating.  To date, we have solar installations on the following buildings:

  • Albee Hall: to heat an indoor swimming pool; (thermal)
  • Blackhawk Commons: for dishwashing; (thermal)
  • Sage Hall: for heat and electricity; (PV)
  • Student Success Center: for electricity; (PV)
  • Taylor Residence Hall: for hot water; (thermal)
  • Heating Plant: to pre-heat water for steam production. (thermal)

Two Different Types of Panels

Solar Thermal

Solar thermal electric energy generation concentrates the light from the sun to create heat, and that heat is used to run a heat engine, which turns a generator to make electricity. The working fluid that is heated by the concentrated sunlight can be a liquid or a gas. Different working fluids include water, oil, salts, air, nitrogen, helium, etc. Different engine types include steam engines, gas turbines, Stirling engines, etc. All of these engines can be quite efficient, often between 30% and 40%, and are capable of producing 10's to 100's of megawatts of power.

(CC image By Erik Christensen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Photovoltaic or PV

Photovoltaic, or PV energy conversion, on the other hand, directly converts the sun's light into electricity. This means that solar panels are only effective during daylight hours because storing electricity is not a particularly efficient process. Heat storage is a far easier and efficient method, which is what makes solar thermal so attractive for large-scale energy production. Heat can be stored during the day and then converted into electricity at night. Solar thermal plants that have storage capacities can drastically improve both the economics and the dispatchability of solar electricity.



In 2011, we opened the first commercial-scale dry anaerobic biodigester in the Americas.  Owned by the UW Oshkosh Foundation and designed by BioFerm Energy Systems, the plant uses organic waste from regional dining halls, yards, supermarkets and farms to produce methane gas that is burned to power turbines that generate electricity. Waste heat will soon be piped into nearby buildings for space heat. The energy output equals approximately 8% of the electricity used on campus.

We also use biomass in the form of wood and paper pellets that we mix with coal for use in our heating plant. Ethanol and biodiesel, both biofuels, are used in fleet vehicles.  We have several flex-fuel vehicles that can burn up to 85% ethanol and our diesel burning vehicles use a blend of up to 20% biodiesel.


(UWO and Rosendale Dairy's dry-fermentation anaerobic biodigester (BD2))

For more information about how we address energy topics in the 2008 Campus Sustainability Plan, select one of the following:

    Dry Fermentation Anaerobic Biodigester

    (UWO Biodigester (BD1) engine exhaust components)

    In 2012, UWO opened a dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester system. The benefits of the plant are many. At its core, the plant converts food and yard wastes, or renewable biomass, into methane gas, which is burned to produce steam to generate electricity. The plant digests some 6,000 tons of organic waste per year, converting it into about 8% of the electricity consumed by campus reducing its fossil greenhouse gas emissions. In diverting this waste from landfills, the plant also contributes to extending the life of landfills, while saving the campus money associated with the cost of transporting wastes and in tipping fees. Learn more.


    Geothermal energy makes up .41% of the United States energy production as of 2012, according to This highly scalable renewable energy technology uses that heat under the Earth's surface to produce energy at an industrial level, and maintain heating levels for residential and commercial use. The process requires special equipment to drill into or dig up the ground. Then lay tubing or other kinds of technology into the Earth and use the transfer of heat to produce energy or capture that heat.


    Geothermal Energy 

    Using the Ground Temperature

    At a depth of below four feet, the ground temperature stays a constant 50 to 55 degrees year-round. During the winter, a geothermal system absorbs this extra heat fthe earth and transfers it into your home. During the summer, the systemtakes heat from indoors and moves it back underground. rom Annual air temperature, moisture content, soil type and vegetative cover (i.e., trees and plants) all have an effect on underground soil temperature. As you might expect, the earth's temperature changes in response to weather changes, but there is less change at greater depths. (

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