*This is the fifth Guest Blog from Walter Simpson,**CEM, LEED AP, retired 26-year University at Buffalo Energy Officer and Director of UB Green. Walter will be writing blogs weekly that provide guidance on preparing a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to assist signatories of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. We encourage readers to post comments and questions for Walter. Read Walter's past weekly blogs here.
Hello Campus Climateers!
This week’s topic is doing a greenhouse gas inventory, a critically important step in the climate action planning process. But before I address that, there are two things I want to share with you.
The first is from Jim Hansen
whose mailing list I am grateful to be on. Today, I began my morning reading a short Hansen article entitled the “Sword of Damocles,
”. Hansen says bluntly, “Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know.” He target’s coal as the worst offender and makes a plea, based on hard science, calling for and end to coal burning. This leading climatologist uses some harsh language, stating that “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains.” He mentions that he has contacted many heads of state about the need to stop coal burning and he rejects the attempts by many to call themselves “green” while they continue to allow coal burning in their countries.
There is an obvious connection here to our campuses, reliant as many are on both coal-fired purchased electricity and/or campus heating or power plants which burn coal. Thus it is wonderful news to hear from national environmental leader Ball State University that soon they will be closing their old campus coal plant (which needs replacement) and switching over to geothermal heating as well as cooling.
This $66 million project will utilize 3,750 four hundred foot deep wells and eliminate the coal plant’s carbon footprint of 85,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Of course, the geothermal heat pump system will require electricity to operate. From what I hear, eventually that electricity may be provided by wind turbines – thus achieving campus-wide carbon-free heating and cooling, no small accomplishment! So, while projects of this type, scale, and cost may be beyond the reach of many campuses, let’s take our hats off to BSU! Just incredible!
Now let’s turn to conducting a campus greenhouse gas inventory. As Jerry Seinfeld might say, “what’s that all about?”
As you know, the ACUPCC requires signatories to conduct a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory within one year of signing on and then to update that inventory every other year. A GHG inventory will establish and quantify your campus’ carbon footprint in terms of metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MTeCO2/yr). This provides a measuring stick to determine success or failure in your effort to reduce GHG emissions and thus make progress toward climate neutrality.
I must confess that for many years while I worked at the University of Buffalo I resisted the idea of doing a greenhouse gas inventory. The primary reason was the staff time required to do one – I was always stretched to the breaking point with other projects. By spending my time aggressively implementing energy conservation projects I knew we were going in the right direction -- even though I could not tell others how many tons of CO2 we were saving.
When Jim Simon
came on board at the UB Green Office
, things changed. He linked up with Jenn Andrews
at Clean Air-Cool Planet
(CA-CP) and dedicated himself to doing our first GHG inventory. Jim’s efforts led to our first UB Green Climate Action Report
which reinforced campus energy awareness efforts and re-prioritized campus energy conservation efforts. Thus, what became clear to me was the educational benefit of quantifying and connecting campus operations and the problem of climate change. A GHG inventory can do this for you and, if you play it right (i.e. roll it out with much fanfare), it can be a big wake up call.
Conducting a GHG emissions inventory involves these steps:
Determine the scope of your inventory, i.e. which categories of emissions you will be including
Determine your time horizon, i.e. the years you plan to inventory (multiple years is recommended so you can see trends)
Select your GHG inventory tool
Gather the required input data
Run the inventory spread sheet
Analyze and present the results
This process is described in detail in the ACUPCC Implementation Guide
. The minimal ACUPCC GHG emission inventory requirements are that emissions from the following sources be included:
Direct combustion of fossil fuels by equipment which is owned by and controlled by your school, e.g. boilers, fleet vehicles, etc.
So-called “fugitive emissions” from on-campus releases of CFCs and HCFCs and on-campus releases of methane from farm animals (if you have them)
Commuting by students, faculty and staff to and from campus
Business air travel paid for by your school
Also consider emissions from other GHG sources – e.g. waste disposal -- since including them increases the likelihood that efforts will also be made to reduce them.
A number of GHG inventory tools are available. The ACUPCC requires that you use one compliant with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol – a standard procedure for analyzing GHG emissions created by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Clean Air-Cool Planet’s “Campus Carbon Calculator”
(available for free download at http://www.cleanair-coolplanet.org/toolkit/
) is compliant with this protocol and is the inventory tool most commonly used by campuses. Essentially, it is an elaborate Excel spreadsheet. You plug in the required data and it calculates total GHG emissions and the subsets from different GHG sources.
If you haven’t used the CA-CP Campus Carbon Calculator you might assume it requires a level of expertise and time commitment that you cannot muster. To CA-CP’s credit, the Calculator is relatively easy to use. In fact gathering the input data may be harder than inputting it into the spread sheet and running the calculator. You don’t need to be an astrophysicist or brain surgeon to do it. And it doesn’t require a consultant. You just need some time and patience – and the good folks at CA-CP will help you when you have questions. They also offer webinars
Basic point about doing a GHG inventory is: Don’t be scared! You can do it!
The CA-CP Campus Carbon Calculator makes analysis of your carbon footprint easy by providing a variety of ways of presenting, comparing, and trending the results. Also, each version of the CA-CP calculator gets more sophisticated and offers more options. The calculator will generate not only GHG emissions totals but will normalize the data in terms of emissions per student, per net or gross square foot, etc. Graphing capabilities are built in.
The Calculator’s Version 6 includes a solutions module which can be used to rank GHG mitigation projects in terms of their relative cost-effectiveness ($/MTCO2e) – thus prioritizing projects that produce the most carbon reduction bang for the buck! This version can also calculate electricity line losses as well as production-related emissions for various grades of office paper. Hopefully, the latter will help you make the case for buying only 100% post-consumer content recycled paper. Jenn Andrews tells me that a future version of the Calculator may even include a tool for calculating the carbon footprint as well as other environmental impacts of campus dining services.
Of course, this sophistication comes at a price. Your analysis can get increasingly complicated – which can be both helpful and motivating or daunting and discouraging, depending on how you approach the task and understand the limits of the calculator and the data it produces.
But here’s a really important point: You don’t want your GHG number crunching to distract you from undertaking actions and projects which actually reduce emissions. This may seem obvious but it’s an issue because of staffing limitations and the very real fact that there are only so many hours in the day.
What you are looking for is honest analysis and not grist for public relations or one-upmanship. Making comparisons from one campus to another may not be helpful since campuses may choose to include or exclude various data points. Also, some schools may be “disadvantaged” because the electricity they purchase is dirtier – more carbon-intensive – than the grid power available to your campus. In the end, what’s important is your own progress in better understanding the sources of your GHG emissions and ultimately reducing them.
In sum, a GHG emissions inventory is a helpful tool but it’s not a silver bullet. It won’t, for example, tell you what specific emissions mitigation opportunities exist in various campus buildings. An energy analysis of those buildings is required for that. So every now and then turn off your computer, leave your office, and venture out on to campus to learn about those building energy systems that daily waste energy and emit all that carbon into the atmosphere.
Next week I’ll look at what to expect from your GHG inventory and how to get the most benefit from it.
‘till then climateers!
Walter Simpson, CEM, LEED AP, retired 26 year University at Buffalo Energy Officer and director of UB Green, is working with AASHE and the American College & University President’s Commitment to develop a climate action plan wiki which is expected to be initially posted in March 2009.