Energy Production and Utilities

As of November 19, 2014, Vanderbilt is coal free! Vanderbilt University currently has an on-campus co-generation, natural gas-fueled power plant which produces 23% of our electricity and 100% of our steam, servicing 12 million square feet of building space. This steam is then used for 90% of campus heating, sterilization, and 40% of campus cooling. This cogeneration process is quite efficient: heat, which would otherwise be a wasted byproduct of electricity and steam generation, is used to produce more steam and hot water. The remaining 77% of electricity consumed at Vanderbilt is purchased directly from Nashville Electric Service from Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

The plant is now fueled by 100% natural gas. The conversion of the plant replaced the coal-fired boilers with natural gas boilers, retaining the same power generation capacity. The iconic smokestack, silo, and other coal infrastructure were demolished in the Spring of 2015 as part of a broader renovation to modernize the plant.

  • Our Team

    The Energy Production & Utilities department is overseen by the Plant Manager, John Williams. The department is comprised of a Cogeneration Plant Supervisor, Cogeneration Operator, Power Distribution Specialists, and Welder/Pipefitter. 

  • On-Site Clean Energy

    Investing in the Future

    As part of the BlueSky Energy Vision Study recommendations, the university will explore and implement a comprehensive renewable net positive energy plan through energy conservation, production of more on-site clean (without combustion) and renewable energy than the university consumes to be able to store the excess for resiliency, and procurement of large-scale off-site renewable energy:

    • Maximize solar and solar-ready building opportunities
    • Reduce the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of buildings on campus
    • Identify opportunities to expand renewable energy production on campus
    • Implement energy storage for resiliency
    • Capture water for reuse

    On-Site Energy Today

    Vanderbilt’s on-campus Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant produces a portion of the electricity, all of the steam, and a portion of the chilled water consumed by the Vanderbilt community. This steam is then used for 90% of campus heating, sterilization, and 40% of campus cooling.

    On November 19, 2014, Vanderbilt stopped burning coal in our on-campus power plant. More information about the power plant conversion can be found here.

    The remaining portion of electricity consumed by Vanderbilt is purchased from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). TVA generates power at coal–fired and natural gas power plants, nuclear power plants, with renewable energy and at hydroelectric dams.

    Vanderbilt also has:

    • Solar-powered electronics charging stations and picnic tables
    • A solar-powered hot water heating system installed in the Currey Tennis Center including solar panels that collect the sun’s energy to heat the water for the building
    • A 20kW solar photovoltaic electrical system installed on the roof of Currey Tennis Center with solar panels that generate electricity from the sun’s energy, which is fed into the Vanderbilt electricity grid

    dashboard of the solar panel system can be viewed online with the login: and password: VU*Tennis

    View energy consumption of campus buildings online. EnergyLogix is a web-based energy dashboard which allows the real-time monitoring of energy as well as comparing multiple buildings against each other in a user friendly animated chart.

  • Off-Site Large-Scale Renewable Energy

    Large-Scale Renewable Energy

    Vanderbilt University entered into an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Nashville Electric Service through TVA’s Green Invest program to procure off-site large-scale renewable energy to help mitigate the campus’ greenhouse gas emissions. Through this partnership, Vanderbilt is tackling climate change head-on by working towards its goal of powering its campus entirely through renewable energy and committing to carbon neutrality.

    Vanderbilt is the first customer to partner with a local power company on this type of agreement in the seven-state TVA region. The 20-year agreement will support Vanderbilt’s goal to power its campus entirely through renewable energy and become carbon neutral by the year 2050. This collaboration also allows the region to take a bold step forward in expanding availability and access to renewable energy at a critical time in global efforts to address the threat of climate change.

    Vanderbilt’s initial Green invest project was announced in January 2020.  The solar farm, located in Bedford County, Tennessee, mitigates approximately 70 percent of the university’s indirect greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity. The solar farm opened in April 2023, with a “Flip the Switch” event on April 11.

    The second Green Invest project will supply enough renewable energy to offset the remaining 30 percent of the university’s annual indirect greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity. This second planned solar farm will be located in Moore County, Tennessee.

    Nashville-based and VU alumni-founded Silicon Ranch is funding both solar farm projects and overseeing constriction. The company will own, operate and maintain the Vanderbilt solar farms, which will offer opportunities to engage faculty and students to learn more about solar energy.

    The Green Invest partnerships are the result of two years of intensive effort through The Large-Scale Renewable Energy Study by Vanderbilt to identify the best renewable energy strategy for the university on the basis of key criteria that include financial, social and environmental benefits and risk mitigation.

    Vanderbilt I Solar Farm (Bedford County) Media

  • Power Plant History

    The original Vanderbilt University Powerhouse was built in 1888 and was located in the original Mechanical Engineering Hall.

    1888 to 1925

    Boilers in the original power plant provided steam for heating of campus buildings.

    1989 to 1918

    A generator in the original power plant produce electricity for the campus. 

    1925 to 1927

    Between 1925 and 1927 a new steam plant was constructed at the current location it consisted of four boilers capable of a total of 110,000 PPH of 125 PSIG steam. 


    In 1961 Vanderbilt University purchased the high voltage substation from the local utility, and installed (2) additional 100,000 PPH boilers. 


    75,000 PPH high pressure boilers were installed along with a back-pressure turbine and "peaking" turbine. A "bag house" was installed to control particularities in boiler stack gas. 


    Three 900 tons Trane steam absorption chillers were installed in the main power plant to provide chilled water throughout campus. 


    The co-generation facility opens.


    Vanderbilt University becomes coal free and converted to on-campus co-generation, natural gas fueled power plant. 


    Two chillers were removed and replaced by 1800 ton steam turbine chiller. 


    Remaining 900 ton absorption chiller removed and replaced by 1800 ton electric chiller. 


    Vanderbilt University reached carbon neutrality, decades ahead of its initial goal. 


    Vanderbilt also opened its first solar farm through the Green Invest Program, the Vanderbilt I Solar Farm, in April of 2023.

    Vanderbilt University announces the Central Utilities Initiative.

  • Central Utilities Initiative (CUI)

    Vanderbilt University is set to make extensive upgrades to its utilities and other infrastructure as it prepares for future campus growth. The Central Utilities Initiative, which began January 2023, will provide enhancements in support of various Vandy United projects and other future university projects.


    Conceptual Rendering

    Among the planned upgrades, the new initiative will enhance the resiliency and redundancy of current utility systems on campus. Capacity for utility generation also will be increased with the construction of a new power plant beginning in 2023, as well as improved distribution lines. The Highland Power Plant, which is being designed to achieve LEED certification, will be located at the recreation field on 25th Avenue South, next to the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center.

    Similar to the Phase I construction project in the Peabody Neighborhood in 2020, CUI will convert the original underground steam distribution system to hot water saving considerable energy and install chilled water lines, supporting the university’s sustainability goals. In alignment with Vanderbilt’s FutureVU vision, the project also will include the burying of overhead utilities, road improvements, and an enhanced pedestrian-centric environment, comparable to the transformation of the West End Neighborhood in 2019.