This year’s NCAA basketball tournament was more surprising than most, with an estimated 70 million brackets filled out, the series of Big 12 upsets in the first round now referred to as Black Thursday, and our very own James McCray accurately predicting a Badgers/Duke Championship in the Navigant Research pool. What is more surprising than any of this, however, is the Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI’s) renewable energy bracket. RMI filled out a bracket based on the renewable energy portfolio of the utility serving the main campus of each school participating in the tournament, and the results are worth delving into.
Upsets & Underdogs
For starters, this year’s Final Four, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Duke, and Kentucky, did terribly in RMI’s renewable energy bracket. Of the four teams, only two made it past the first round. National champion Duke, with 1.1% renewable energy incorporated in its energy mix, was taken down in the first round by Robert Morris with just 6.2% renewable energy generation. Kentucky, which was favored to win the tournament this year but was taken down by the Badgers, lost in the first round due to a whopping 0.5%. Michigan State made it through the first round with 3.5%, but quickly lost in the second round to Belmont, with 15% renewable energy generation. Wisconsin, which has the most impressive renewable generation of the actual Final Four with 12%, made it past the first round, but quickly lost to Oregon.
This brings up the next revelation in RMI’s bracket—Oregon is the clean energy national champion. The Ducks were picked due to the 95% renewable energy generation of their campus, beating Eastern WA with 87.7%. The surprise is not that Oregon is the greenest school in the tournament, but that the percentage of clean energy powering the Duck’s campus is incredibly high. 95% is a pleasantly surprising number to see alongside other contenders in the bracket, such as RMI’s winners for the Midwest and East, Texas and UC Irvine, with just 14.6% and 21.6%, respectively.
The message to take away from RMI’s renewable energy bracket is that this year’s March Madness teams, especially the Final Four, may be great at college basketball, but each could use some work on their sustainability practices and renewable energy penetration back on campus. Some schools, like Gonzaga with 56% and San Diego State with 23.6%, are a breath of clean air. But most schools fall somewhere below 10%, including highly ranked Villanova with 6.2% and Arizona with 5.6%.
It’s also important to note that different rankings produce different results. For example, the Sierra Club’s Greenest American Colleges ranking places UC Irvine as the greenest school in the country due to its ambitious energy efficiency and energy reduction goals, but RMI’s bracket has it losing in the Final Four. Rankings also depend upon different factors that can produce different results. For instance, Kentucky actually has a combined heat and power (CHP) program that generates 18% of its annual energy production, but the generator in this CHP system runs on natural gas and coal. As far as rankings go, should this CHP system be included because the school doesn’t waste the thermal heat produced during combustion, or should it be left out because the generators do not use sustainable resources?
To learn more about ways that colleges can increase their renewable energy initiatives and become more sustainable, check out Navigant Research’s report on Zero Energy Buildings.