UC Davis’ West Village opened two years ago, boasting to be the largest zero-net energy planned community in the nation. However, a study by the Davis Energy Group revealed that it currently produces only 87 percent of its energy, failing to meet the promised goal of 100 percent of its own energy.
West Village is supposed to be a city on the hill for aspiring sustainable developers, and has received quite a bit of media and political attention since opening. Solar panels over the parking lots generate most of the electricity at the moment, and are providing just as much as the initial models predicted. The problem is not in the generation, but in the consumption.
Currently housing 1,980 students, faculty and staff, West Village is predicted to house 3,500 in the next several years, and 350 single-family homes will also be built at some point in the future.
The energy inefficiency has been identified as collective overuse, as the community planning was based on data from family units, and typically, a group of four students will consume more energy than a family of four. West Village residents also aren’t charged for utilities, so there’s no monetary incentive to turn lights off. As a result, energy use has exceeded expectations.
Even so, 87 percent is impressive. The Aggie Editorial Board acknowledges that West Village is a pioneer in its ambitions, and that such a close shot early on is more of an achievement than an outright failure.
The failure has even been defended with a reminder that it is a real estate development as well as a campus project, and that it has to be attractive to students as well as sustainable. $300 million went into developing West Village, $17 million coming from UC Davis, $2.5 million from the California Energy Commission and millions also from taxpayer dollars. The project has been open for two years, and we think the management has had enough time and resources to address this issue.
At the moment, West Village is once again predicted to meet its energy goals in the next two years. Despite this recent letdown, prospects look bright, as a newly built anaerobic biodigester will be converting leftover food from the UC Davis Dining Commons into energy for the campus.
In the meantime, The Aggie offers West Village congratulations on an almost perfect run, the suggestion that some incentive might increase student conservation and encouragement to keep trying.