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West Village Is Sustainability Role Model

Based on its sustainable design, UC Davis' new net zero energy community is designed to generate as much energy as it consumes. | Video courtesy of the University of California at Davis.

A new housing development on the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) campus is in the planning stages to bring a new source of renewable energy to its community -- a biodigester. As part of the Department of Energy’s Community Renewable Energy Development project, UC Davis received federal funding for the innovative biodigester, which turns organic waste into electricity. The organic waste is burned and produces biogas that a turbine converts into electricity.

“The goal is to get the biodigester up and running the first part of next year,” said Sid England, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability at UC Davis. “Part of the grant was to do the analysis, and we completed the feasibility study in September. We now are doing the environmental review for the project.”

The proposal involves using food waste from the dining commons and campus landscaping residue as feedstock.  Animal waste from the school’s animal facilities such as the veterinary college will also be used. The university hopes the biodigester will eliminate the need to send any waste to landfills by 2020.

The biodigester is a small part of the campus’s considerable development called the UC Davis West Village that occupies 130 acres. It’s unique because builders hope the student and faculty resident facilities will become the largest net-zero energy use community in the nation -- producing as much energy as it uses. To accomplish this feat, the building designers are focusing on the trifecta: ultra energy-efficient features, renewable energy from solar panels and potentially the biodigester.

“By reducing the energy demand, it’s possible to explore meeting that demand on an annual basis with renewable energy,” said England. “The key to going to zero net energy from the grid is energy efficiency. The second most important thing is energy efficiency, and the third most important thing is energy efficiency.”

The first 800 housing units in the development opened last August. Another 600 units are slated to open this fall, with an additional 600 units planned for fall 2013. “So far, we are heading in the right direction in meeting our energy goals,” said Nolan Zail, Senior Vice President of Development for Carmel Partners -- the private company developing the new campus residences. “We are seeing that some residents have a wide variation of energy usage. The period we are looking at is short (this past fall and winter) when we don’t get as much PV (photovoltaic) generation due to shorter days and variability of occupancy during school holidays. The signs are still encouraging that we will meet our energy goals,” Zail said.