Energy Use (3.0)

Credit Language

OP 5: Energy Use – version 3.0 


  • 5.1 Energy consumption per square meter
  • 5.2 Energy consumption per person
  • 5.3 Percentage of energy from renewable sources
  • 5.4 Percentage of electricity from on-site or certified renewable sources

Questions & Answers

How has this credit changed between STARS Version 2 and Version 3?

  • Energy figures must be reported in megawatt-hours (MWh). An energy calculator is provided.
  • Energy consumption is now normalized by floor area and FTE of students and employees.
  • Gross floor area must be provided in square meters.
  • Energy consumption performance is now assessed against a benchmark for an institution’s peer group (basic institution type). Baseline data is no longer required. Learn more about how benchmarks were calculated.
  • Under Indicator 5.2, the definition of renewable sources is now inclusive of hydropower and, in some cases, the renewable percentage of a utility provider’s standard product.
  • A new indicator (5.4) recognizes institutions that are playing a leadership role by generating renewable electricity on-site and/or purchasing high quality, third party certified green power. No new data are required.
  • A comprehensive list of differences can be found in the STARS 3.0 Summary of changes.

How do we determine which peer group our institution falls under (Indicator 5.1)? 

Institutions must select from among the following peer groups, which typically aligns with Institution Type categories reported under PRE 3: Institutional Characteristics. Peer group selections should be consistent with PRE 3 and across all applicable credits. 

  • Associate’s colleges, short-cycle institutions and pre-tertiary schools – This category includes higher education institutions where all degrees are at the associate’s level, or where baccalaureate degrees account for less than 10% of all degrees.
  • Baccalaureate colleges and boarding schools – This category includes Colleges and universities where baccalaureate degrees represent at least 10% of all undergraduate degrees and where fewer than 50 master’s degrees or 20 doctoral degrees are awarded annually. 
  • Master’s colleges and universities – This category includes colleges and universities that award at least 50 master’s degrees and fewer than 20 doctoral degrees annually.
  • Doctoral universities and research institutions –  This category includes institutions that award at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees annually, including doctoral degrees that qualify recipients for entry into professional practice. 

How is on-site geothermal energy/ground source heating and cooling recognized? 

On-site renewable systems that produce thermal energy, but not electricity, are recognized in STARS 3.0 to the extent that they reduce an institution’s GHG emissions (see the Greenhouse Emissions credit) and its demand for electricity and fuel (Energy Use indicators 5.1 and 5.2). 

Consistent with programs such as ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, reasons for this approach include the following: 

  • The methodologies used to calculate the thermal energy produced by on-site renewable systems can vary considerably and some institutions with these systems may not have the data at all. Treating them as forms of demand reduction rather than requiring that they be measured therefore helps ensure that there is a “level playing field”. 
  • The Energy Use credit in STARS is based on a “total energy consumption” figure. If on-site renewable thermal energy was included in this total, it would negatively impact an institution’s reported energy efficiency in comparison with other institutions and result in a lower score on indicators 5.1 and 5.2 than is achieved by excluding it. This approach rewards institutions that have implemented cogeneration, solar thermal and geothermal systems, while keeping the reporting requirements as simple as possible.

Recognizing the importance of these technologies, the following text documentation field has been added and is recommended for institutions employing on-site geothermal systems:  “Description of any cogeneration, solar thermal, geothermal, or similar technologies used by the institution that reduce the demand for non-renewable energy”. 

What types of renewable energy sources qualify under Indicator 5.3?

Adapted from the definitions used by the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) and the US

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), renewable sources are energy sources that are inexhaustible, i.e., that restore themselves over short periods of time and do not diminish. The following energy sources qualify as renewable under Indicator 5.3:

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Hydropower
  • Ocean-based energy captured through tidal, wave, or ocean thermal energy conversion technologies
  • Solid, liquid, and gaseous forms of biomass from biogenic waste, production residues, and/or short rotation woody crops
  • Renewable hydrogen (hydrogen produced using electricity from renewable sources)

What types of energy attribute certificates (EACs) qualify under Indicator 5.3?

EACs are contractual instruments that represent and convey all attributes of renewable electricity generation, without requiring that the electricity itself be sold with the attributes. When a generator delivers electricity to the grid, it is able to sell these attributes in the form of an EAC to another party who draws electricity from the grid, as a means of tracking who is buying and using the renewable electricity. Examples of EACs include:

  • Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs): market-based instruments that represent the rights to the environmental, social, and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation.
  • Guarantees of Origin (GOs): Certificates issued by European energy authorities to certify that electricity was produced from renewable energy sources.
  • International RECs (I-RECs): a type of energy attribute certificate intended for regions without an existing or reliable energy attribute tracking framework.

Does our electricity grid mix count under Indicator 5.3?

The percentage of a utility’s standard or default product that is traceable to renewable sources may be included as electricity from uncertified off-site renewable sources to the extent that the renewable attributes of the energy are retained or retired on behalf of the institution (or a group including the institution) and that no other entities can lay claim to the renewable attributes of the same megawatt-hour of generation. An institution whose electricity supplier does not offer a bundled product or retain or retire the renewable attributes of its standard or default product on behalf of its customers may report the percentage of the utility’s residual supply that is renewable and has not been claimed in compliance or voluntary markets (if available).

Are there other credits that ask for the same information?

Gross floor area of building space is required under the following credits:

  • PRE 3: Institutional Characteristics
  • OP 3: Water Use
  • OP 5: Energy Use
  • OP 6: Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • OP 12: Waste Generation & Recovery

Full-time equivalent student enrollment and Full-time equivalent of employees are reported under the following credits: 

  • PRE 3: Institutional Characteristics
  • OP 3: Water Use
  • OP 5: Energy Use 
  • OP 6: Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • OP 12: Waste Generation & Recovery
  • OP 14: Commute Modal Split

Generally speaking, these figures should be consistent across credits if the same performance year is being used. To simplify reporting, the Reporting Tool will allow you to copy the figures reported under the Institutional Characteristics into other credits. If it is necessary to deviate from one or more PRE figures when completing a credit, the rationale for doing so should be recorded in the Notes field for the affected credits (e.g., difference in reporting timeframe).  

See related article on Can information be shared between credits?.

Resources, Templates & Tools

Suggestions for Institutions

  • Floor area figures must be reported in square meters. To convert gross square feet to gross square meters, multiply by 0.09290304. Parking structures are excluded.
  • Review the Institution Type classification reported under PRE 3 and ensure that the selection under this credit aligns with what is reported in PRE.

Potential Data Quality Issues

  • Indicators 5.1 and 5.2 – Peer Group – The selection made for peer group must be consistent to what is reported under PRE 3 for Institution Type. US institutions: Refer to the latest Carnegie Basic Type Classification for your institution to ensure that the most accurate selection is made.
  • Data consistency: Gross floor area (Indicator 5.1) and Full time equivalent students and employees (Indicator 5.2) should be consistent between PRE 3, and this credit if the same Performance Year is used. Valid discrepancies should be clarified in the Notes field.
  • Indicator 5.3. Numeric outlier – Reporting a high Percentage of energy from renewable sources (above 20%) may indicate a misinterpretation of the renewable energy sources that qualify, or data entry and/or unit conversion errors. Supporting documentation should be included to help support claims.
  • Indicators 5.3 and 5.4. Numeric outlier – Reporting high percentages (above 20%) under 5.3: Percentage of energy from renewable sources and 5.4: Percentage of electricity from on-site and/or third party certified renewable sources, may indicate a misinterpretation of the renewable energy sources that qualify, or data entry and/or unit conversion errors. Supporting documentation should be included to help support high performance claims.

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