There are a great many ways to reduce GHG emissions on campus. This section of the CAP Guide presents basic GHG mitigation strategies and specific tactics/actions within these categories:
Burning fossil fuels -- and the subsequent release of carbon dioxide -- is the primary cause of global warming and climate change. Burning fossil fuels, including burning them to generate purchased electricity, is also the primary source of GHG emissions at colleges and universities. It follows, then, that the first and foremost campus GHG emissions mitigation strategy is energy conservation and energy efficiency improvements to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
**Nothing is cleaner than the BTU or kilowatt hour of energy that you don’t need, don’t consume, and therefore that doesn’t need to be produced or generated. **
Energy production and consumption have social and environmental impacts. Energy conservation avoids these impacts. Prevention is better than a cure.
End-use energy conservation has great power because units of energy saved at the point of use can save many times that amount of energy when the inefficiencies of energy production and distribution are taken into account. As this illustration below (redrawn from an illustration from Rocky Mountain Institute) shows, turning off a pump that produces work equal to 9.5 units of energy saves 100 units of input energy at the power plant -- and it saves even more energy than that if we consider the energy it takes to produce and deliver fuel to that power plant.
Image courtesy of Rocky Mountain Institute
Suppose we need that pump to run but not at full speed. If we reduce the flow/speed of the pump by only 21%, the work the pump does decreases by 50% (i.e. 4.75 units of work energy output). This slight reduction can save 50 units of energy at the power plant! Since the pump in this illustration is running on electricity generated by burning coal, this example of end use conservation produces substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions – thus helping to put the brakes on climate change. Imagine the impact of turning off or turning down all those pumps, fans, lights, and other energy-using appliances on campus that don’t need to be on right now. Energy savings of this magnitude are wildly exciting to contemplate!
Here are key components of an effective campus energy conservation program to reduce energy use and GHG emissions from campus operations:
Strong Program Leadership
Enhanced Energy Awareness (see detail in the "Energy Awareness" section)
Aggressive Energy Conservation Policies which address:
Engaged Facilities Operations
Energy Smart Capital Improvement Program
Deliberate Targeting of Worst Offenders
Energy Performance Contracting
Incentives for Energy Conservation
Super Energy Efficient Planning and Green Design for New Construction
Documentation of Savings
For campus energy conservation program examples, see the Energy section of AASHE's resource center. This webpage includes links to numerous campus energy websites, energy plans and energy policies.
It is essential that everyone on campus pitch in. This can be accomplished by an effective energy awareness program or campaign that encourages individual and group action. Here are some energy awareness program considerations and ideas:
How much can you accomplish via awareness raising? A great deal if it gets facilities staff to use the tools at their disposal to save energy. An awful lot if you inspire your school’s president to set an example and let others know he/she expects others to follow his/her lead.
But what about the general campus population? An effective energy awareness program might reduce energy consumption on campus by 5 or 10 % or more. A great student research project would be to take one or more buildings, launch an energy awareness campaign and measure energy use before and after, and determine from that experiment how to do energy awareness raising with maximum success and how much energy saving is possible with various methods.
AASHE maintains an extensive list of campus energy websites.
Standard techniques for conserving energy and improving energy efficiency in commercial or institutional buildings are well known to the vast majority of campus facilities managers. These strategies can be found in many places including in publications available through:
Here is a list of some of some energy conservation measures that can be used in campus buildings:
Evaluating opportunities for natural gas-fired cogeneration and fuel switching from electric heating to natural gas requires a different mind-set when your ultimate goal is a reduction in carbon footprint (as opposed to simply reduced energy costs). While cogen and fuel switching are typically regarded as methods for improving overall efficiency (including thermal losses at utility power plants), on your campus these measures could decrease or increase your carbon footprint depending on the carbon intensity of your purchased electricity -- so it bears analysis.
Participating in the LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) program may be an effective vehicle for moving your campus in more energy efficient directions – though be aware that not all LEED EB credits achieve energy or carbon reductions. For reducing GHG emissions, the most important credits in LEED EB are energy efficiency (EA Credit 1), building commissioning (Credits 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3), and renewable energy (EA Credit 4).
Energy performance contracting may be a critically important tool in your energy conservation bag of tricks. A good performance contract can allow your campus to do a decade or more’s worth of conservation in just a few years. Typically, these projects involve hiring an energy service company or ESCO, require little or no upfront money, and pay for themselves out of savings. Here are some guidelines for a good project:
Small campuses may be less attractive for ESCOs and increase the likelihood that projects may require some financial commitment to help a project get started. Check on state or utility incentives to help get funding for audits that are often the first step.
In order to achieve significant GHG emissions reductions colleges and universities must think differently about energy conservation on their campuses. What is needed is not just an efficient campus but a super-efficient one. That means not just doing conservation but doing what might be called “deep conservation.” Even campuses that have already done extensive energy retrofitting and have model energy conservation programs need to do more. Resting on one’s laurels should not be an option.
Your school may be a leader and have already reduced energy consumption in buildings by as much as 30% but that is not enough. To meet the challenge of climate change you will need to redouble your efforts – and try to reduce energy consumption by another 10%, 20% or more.
To identify advanced strategies, techniques, and products for achieving deep conservation, your campus facilities unit may want to team up with interested faculty and students as well as an expert consultant or two and focus on one or more campus buildings in order to determine what is possible. Is a 40 or 50% cut in energy use possible and still have a livable, functional academic building? While constructing very low energy new buildings may be possible, the biggest, most important challenge for most institutions is figuring out how to significantly reduce the energy used by existing buildings. A campus climate commitment like the ACUPCC is your excuse to give it a try.
Of course, at some point our efforts will bang up against the limits of what can be done in existing buildings and there will be no more practical retrofitting options to exploit. In most cases, however, we are far from that circumstance.
Energy conservation on campus is everyone’s responsibility and a good program will get the whole campus community involved. Nonetheless, facilities management plays a key energy conservation role since maintenance staff control those pieces of equipment that use and can save the most energy. For this reason, effective energy conservation on campus requires a 100% commitment by facilities management.
Not only can facilities staff do the most to save energy, they need to set a solid example or others on campus will never get on the conservation bandwagon and help out where they can. An inspired facilities organization will inspire others. A lackluster facilities organization will turn everyone off.
To do their job, facilities management needs adequate resources and staffing including an energy officer whose job is to identify and carry out projects, get others to do the same, and generally catalyze as much energy conservation activity as possible.
While the role of facilities in achieving energy savings is highlighted here, it is also true that facilities managers and staff are essential for achieving other types of GHG emissions reductions including those which result from the installation of on-site renewables, green power purchasing, and energy efficient green design for new construction.
Facilities staff cannot do their job unless they are supported and empowered by top campus leadership. Without that support, they will be constantly looking over their shoulders anticipating criticism if they go too far in saving energy and cause someone to be inconvenienced. For example, when faculty, staff or students complain that a space previously overheated beyond the policy is no longer as comfortable, facilities staff must be supported for having remedied a wasteful practice. Exceptions to the rule must be rare and based on unusual and valid circumstances. Obviously, campus leadership also must set an example and not ask to be an exception to the policy.
As we consider deep conservation we must address barriers that stand in the way. Among these are inadequate leadership, funding, expertise, and organizational capacity as well as reliance on project evaluative tools and standards that emphasize short paybacks while dismissing longer payback measures. Deciding what evaluative tools, standards, and methods to use is important since your comparative evaluation of projects will help you decide which projects to do and when to schedule them. Deep cuts in GHG emissions require a different approach to project evaluation. (See the chapter on "Project Evaluation and Ranking" for more discussion of this topic)
Problems with Simple Payback
Prospective energy conservation projects are typically evaluated in terms of simple payback, i.e. installed cost divided by the annual savings -- where paybacks of 4 or 5 years are often considered attractive and acceptable. The simple payback approach is perhaps too simple and may rule out desirable projects that have longer simple paybacks or other benefits. These projects are essential to meeting your emissions reduction goals.
Simple payback analysis *fails *to consider:
How can problems with simple payback be remedied? One possibility is switching from simple payback to slightly more sophisticated payback calculations that factor in anticipated energy price inflation. Some “crystal-balling” is required here but reasonable assumptions about future energy prices can be made. Another possibility is extending your acceptable payback threshold to 10, 15 or 20 years – taking care not to extend it past the lifetime of proposed energy measures or projects. A more sophisticated approach is life cycle cost analysis.
Lifecycle Cost Analysis
Lifecycle cost analysis examines and weighs the costs of a measure over its lifespan. It can be used to compare the costs of an existing system over a retrofit one – thus demonstrating the benefits of a retrofit measure in a more comprehensive way than simple payback. It can also be used to compare two or more retrofit options.
A description of lifecycle cost analysis is available in the Whole Building Design Guide which notes that this type of analysis considers these costs/benefits:
The last category of benefits and costs shown above allows life cycle cost analysis to consider a wide range of other factors. For example, a lighting retrofit might save energy and energy dollars *plus *improve safety – where the latter improvement is very important but not easily quantified or stated in dollars. Similarly, an HVAC retrofit might save energy and energy dollars *plus *improve comfort and indoor air quality -- which makes people happier, healthier and perhaps more productive, important factors not easily quantified or monetized.
With lifecycle cost analysis you can also consider altruistic factors, i.e. societal or environmental impacts that wouldn’t otherwise figure into your cost vs. savings calculation. An example might be the impact of a measure on climate, local air pollution, noise, or on the fate of mountain tops in West Virginia that are now subject to destruction by coal mining.
**Factoring in the Avoided Cost of Unneeded RECs or Carbon Offsets **
Colleges and universities that are committed to climate neutrality or sharp cuts in GHG emissions may eventually choose to mitigate remaining fossil fuel use and GHG emissions with purchases of green power or carbon offsets. It makes sense, then, especially for ACUPCC institutions, to credit energy conservation measures with the savings associated with those anticipated avoided purchases. This can be done in a lifecycle analysis. It can also be done in a modified payback analysis – though in both cases you will need to use an assumed cost for the value of the avoided REC or carbon offset. (REC is shorthand for renewable energy credit or certificate, which is generally what one purchases when obtaining green power; see the "Buy Green Power" section for more on this topic)
While it is not possible to know the exact future cost of these instruments, you can estimate those costs by checking with existing vendors to identify a price to use in your calculations. For example, RECs on the national market generally cost 1 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour. TerraPass and the Carbon Fund are currently selling carbon offsets at $10 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions. While using these numbers may be misleading because the markets for both RECs and offsets will evolve (and prices will change), the principle still holds true, namely, that energy conservation can reduce the need to buy RECs or offsets and those avoided future purchases mean avoided future costs. If your school will not be purchasing RECs or carbon offsets for a few years, you can allow for that by excluding their avoided costs in your savings and payback calculations until the year you think they would kick in.
Incidentally, factoring in REC and carbon offset savings into lifecycle or payback analyses can and should also be done when financially evaluating a prospective PV or other type of on-campus renewable energy project – since those projects also reduce the amount of RECs or carbon offsets your school may need to purchase.
**Comparing Measures Based on CO2 Reduction Efficacy **
It also makes sense to evaluate prospective energy conservation measures in terms of their relative efficiency or efficacy in producing GHG emissions reductions. To do this, projects can be compared in terms of a cost/offset ratio or how much it costs to produce a metric ton reduction of carbon dioxide emissions ($/MTCO2e/yr). This analysis can be done in terms of net present value to take into account the time value of money.
Care, however, should be taken not to focus initially only on those measures which have the most attractive cost/offset ratio because such an approach may make it more difficult to complete the less attractive measures at a later date. The same logic applies when comparing projects on the basis of payback.
See the chapter on "Project Evaluation and Ranking" for further discussion on using cost/offset ratios to compare and prioritize projects.
It is often assumed that it makes most sense to start with energy conservation measures that are easiest to do and have the shortest simple paybacks, i.e. the proverbial “low-hanging fruit.” The problem with this approach is that if you harvest all the low hanging fruit first, then all you have left is the high hanging fruit – and reaching that fruit can be pretty difficult since it has longer paybacks and thus appears to be financially unattractive.
The short payback or low hanging fruit trap can be avoided by combining the most cost-effective energy conservation measures with less cost-effective measures. This is typically done in comprehensive energy conservation performance contracts. Lighting retrofits may have short paybacks while more capital-intensive retrofits like installing heat recovery systems or new boilers or chillers may not. If both types of measures are combined in the same project, the end result can be a relatively attractive combined payback and thus an overall project which is relatively easy to financially justify. This approach allows short payback measures to leverage or in essence finance long payback measures.
The strategy of combining short and long payback projects can also be used to finance renewable energy projects like photovoltaic arrays that may have a very long and financially unattractive payback even after taking advantage of incentives that bring down project costs. In a large multi-million dollar comprehensive energy conservation project, conservation measures that payback relatively quickly can be used to leverage a PV array that may payback in 25 or more years. Moreover, while the cost of a large PV array may be substantial if viewed in isolation, even a $500,000 system may shrink to insignificance when viewed in the context of a large multi-million dollar comprehensive energy performance contract.
The second way to avoid the short payback trap is to create a revolving fund that is funded by energy savings that are then available to fund later projects that have longer paybacks.
A revolving fund works by placing all or some of the savings produced by energy conservation projects and measures into an account that is then used to fund other projects. This same account could be the repository for an annual budgetary allocation from your administration to help finance your energy conservation projects. It could also be the place where energy incentive monies are deposited.
Since conservation is so important and funds for projects are generally limited, it will be necessary to protect the revolving fund from being raided for purposes other than conservation. A clear understanding of how this fund may be used is essential. For projects which are a mix of capital improvement and energy conservation, only the premium cost associated with maximizing efficiency should be charged to the fund. The revolving fund’s manager should establish a set of criteria for evaluating eligible projects so that only the best projects which would otherwise not be done get funded from this source.
Another challenge in establishing and maintaining a revolving fund is turning “avoided costs” into real dollars when a budget crunch comes. When an energy conservation measure is employed, it does not produce a pot of money. Instead it produces savings or avoided utility budget costs. To fund your revolving fund, you may need an agreement with your chief budget officer that allows you to identify and transfer energy savings from the surplus in your utility budget caused by conservation measures. This may work well until energy prices unexpectedly rise or if campus energy consumption is greater than anticipated because of an especially cold winter, for example, causing your utility budget to go into deficit mode -- even though the conservation projects you implemented are nonetheless producing savings. Thus, when utility budgets go into the red, transferring savings into your revolving fund may be “politically” more difficult to accomplish. This problem can be solved by anticipating these circumstances and having an agreement in place to transfer savings irrespective of the condition of the budget.
For additional information about revolving funds, see Creating a Campus Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund: A Guide for Students.
Unlike natural gas or oil, coal is mostly carbon – so when it is oxidized or burned, the result is mostly carbon dioxide. Thus from a climate protection point of view, quitting coal is critically important. That rule applies to the coal you may burn in your campus heating or power plant. It also applies to the embodied coal in purchased electricity.
Leading NASA climatologist James Hansen and others have argued that to effectively put the brakes on climate change we must stop burning coal except where carbon dioxide emissions are captured and permanently sequestered – a condition which does not presently apply to coal-burning at any college or university and, with the exception of perhaps a small number of well-funded large university campuses, is unlikely to do so in the future -- given the complexities, costs, and uncertainties of carbon capture and storage.
Of course, quitting coal is more easily said than done. There are at least two big hurdles – the potentially much higher cost of alternative fuels (e.g. natural gas, biomass, etc.) and the cost to build a new campus heating/power plant or retrofit an old one.
Many colleges and universities, especially those in coal states in Appalachia and the Midwest, have traditionally used coal for what seemed to be good reasons before we became aware of the problem of climate change. Coal is, after all, plentiful and cheap – though during the first half of 2008 increasing international demand caused the price of coal to double before returning to normal once the global economic meltdown occurred later in the year. Higher coal prices may return once the world economy gets back on track. Moreover, coal prices will definitely rise to much higher levels as effective cap and trade or carbon tax regimes are disproportionately applied to coal to actively discourage its use. Coal mining presents a raft of troubling environmental and health issues as well. And as many facilities managers know, coal is dirty to handle and can have adverse health impacts on facilities staff – a reality campuses that burn coal may not want to admit for liability reasons.
So it makes sense to look at alternatives to coal burning – perhaps making plans to convert your power plant once the economy picks up and revenues become available. Schools in coal-producing regions of the country may want to expand their examination of alternatives to coal to include research on transitioning local communities away from coal mining and, if needed, direct assistance to workers and communities affected by this transition.
There can be a silver lining to quitting coal. Switching to a higher price heating fuel will increase the incentive your campus has to implement energy conservation measures to reduce your heating load. And those measures will further reduce your carbon footprint. In any event, schools committed to make significant reductions in GHG emissions with on-campus coal plants can’t avoid this very difficult issue.
What fuel options besides coal exist for campus heating or power plants? The obvious traditional one is natural gas. Less obvious though more climate-friendly choices are biomass, landfill gas, and geothermal.
Natural gas industry advertisements have told us for years that natural gas is clean and efficient. In fact, it is a fossil fuel and even burning it efficiently produces ample quantities of carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change we will need to reduce our reliance on all fossil fuels including natural gas. Nonetheless. natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels from the point of view of conventional pollutants as well as carbon dioxide emissions. On a BTU basis (CO2/BTU), natural gas produces about half the GHG emissions as coal. Thus switching from coal to natural gas combustion is a step in the right direction though not a long term fix. While coal is regarded as cheap and plentiful, natural gas supplies are more constrained and natural gas has been relatively expensive until the recent economic downturn.
Campus planning involving heating or power plant fuel choice should anticipate future carbon tax penalties. These penalties will close the cost gap between coal and natural gas. It is also important to note that natural gas can be burned more efficiently than coal.
Cogeneration or “combined heat and power,” an option for coal and natural gas, further increases the efficiency of fuel use (especially if combined cycle technology is used) and thus can play an important role in lowering costs and making natural gas use more affordable. However, a note of caution: as previously mentioned, while cogeneration is generally regarded as an energy efficiency measure, implementing it at any given school could decrease or increase its carbon footprint -- depending on (a) the carbon intensity of the fuel used to cogenerate and (b) the carbon intensity of the purchased electricity cogenerated electricity replaces.
Biomass fuel consists of organic material such as wood chips, oat hulls, corn husks, etc. Finding a long-term reliable supplier with enough fuel from those sources to power campus heating or power plants can be a challenge. Ensuring that the biomass is produced sustainably is also a challenge. Other challenges associated with biomass are biomass’ relatively low heat density (requiring greater volumes of fuel), transporting and handling issues, and its air emissions and ash waste products.
Biomass is not only renewable but also theoretically carbon neutral because the carbon that’s released into the atmosphere when biomass is burned can be captured and sequestered into new biomass as that biomass grows. Sustainable biomass presumes that annual biomass production equals consumption and is accomplished without environmental damage, e.g. cutting down forests. Since some fossil fuel inputs are generally involved in growing, harvesting, chipping, and transporting biomass fuel, it can be argued that biomass is not actually carbon neutral despite often being regarded as such. Calculating the life-cycle net carbon emissions of biomass-based heating or electricity production would be a great project for students and faculty.
Sustainable biomass can include waste products like wood waste from furniture plants, urban tree trimmings, or clean wood extracted from municipal solid waste, and agricultural crop waste. While the waste-to-energy industry sometimes claims that general municipal solid waste is an acceptable biomass fuel, it is not regarded as such by environmentalists because of the dirty air emissions and toxic solid waste by-products its combustion produces and because burning municipal solid waste generally undermines municipal recycling programs.
Before proceeding with plans to convert to biomass campus heating or power generation it is essential that a fuel availability study be conducted. While a consultant can be hired to perform this study, it could be a great project for students with support from faculty and facilities management staff. Students could study the net availability of suitable biomass resources within a given distance from campus. This research would examine existing resources as well as the potential biomass resource if a market for biomass were created by demand from your proposed plant. Students could identify sustainable forestry or crop practices that your school could require for biomass purchases including consideration of the Forest Stewardship Council’s best practices. If you proceed with a biomass plant, once it is up and running students can study the supply chain to determine and evaluate what is actually happening on the ground. This is but one example of an operational step toward reduced carbon emissions that provides a unique and important learning experience for students. Your CAP should identify and utilize these.
While converting your heating or power plant from coal to biomass may be a long-range strategy due to the costs involved, in the meantime – depending on boiler type -- it might be possible to co-fire biomass and thus reduce GHG greenhouse gas emissions. Co-firing generally involves displacing some coal combustion by burning biomass and coal together. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published a useful factsheet on biomass cofiring.
Landfill gas is methane produced by the decomposition of garbage in landfills. Since methane is a powerful GHG gas which on a mass basis and 100 year time horizon has over 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, it is important that it not be vented to the atmosphere. Collection systems can be installed in landfills to harvest methane. It is then scrubbed and often burned on-site to generate electricity or both heat and electricity. It can also delivered elsewhere via pipeline. While burning landfill gas produces carbon dioxide, it also prevents methane emissions – and thus has the effect of a substantial reduction in GHG emissions. While not readily available to all college campuses, landfill gas can be a suitable fuel for campus power plants or any kind of boiler or cogenerator.
University of New Hampshire offers an example of campus cogeneration using landfill gas.
Geothermal energy takes different forms. It may be possible to tap very hot water or steam through deep wells and use that heat energy to heat buildings or generate electricity – though this type of geothermal is very site specific and would not be available to many campuses. In contrast, ground source heat pump (GSHP) systems will work in most areas. They also rely on wells but they use the earth as a heat source and heat sink through the use of electrically powered heat pumps. Heat pumps move heat using a refrigerant gas and a refrigeration cycle much like the one used in a home refrigerator. Usually GSHP systems are used to heat and cool individual buildings – though if you drill enough wells, run enough heat exchanger pipe, and have enough heat pumps, it is theoretically possible to abandon a coal-fired power plant and heat and cool an entire campus this way. If the heat pumps are run on electricity generated from wind turbines or another renewable energy source, you have carbon-free heating and cooling.
Oregon Institute of Technology offers an example of geothermal heating and electricity production on campus and Ball State University provides an example of GSHP replacing a co-fired campus power plant.
Of course, irrespective of the fuel type used by your heating or power plant, you can reduce your carbon footprint and fuel costs by reducing the amount of fuel you burn. That can be done by reducing your campus energy load through energy conservation efforts.
Many sites have limited heating fuel choices and rely on fuel oil as a primary heating source. If cleaner burning natural gas is available nearby, the cost of connecting to it and upgrading boilers & burners to use natural gas can be calculated. A reduction in GHG emissions will be a certainty with this change because on a BTU basis (CO2/BTU) natural gas emits 30% less CO2 than does fuel oil. Also, it may be possible to burn natural gas – especially when cogenerating -- more efficiently than oil, thus further reducing GHG emissions.
Where switching to natural gas isn’t feasible, consider the use of #2 oil vs. the dirtier (but less expensive) #4 or #6 types. On a BTU basis, #2 oil emits 7% less CO2 but emissions reduction will be greater than that because #2 oil does not have to be heated in storage (a requirement for #4 and #6 oils in colder climates to allow the oil to be pumped).
Of course, if you are need of a new power plant or are prepared to replace your oil-burning boilers, then you can consider a wholesale switch to biomass, landfill gas or geothermal.
Conservation and efficiency can take us far but not all the way. Even after we have reduced our energy load to a bare minimum, we will still have to meet that remaining load with some form of energy. In order to achieve climate neutrality or deep cuts in GHG emissions, campuses will need to transition as much as possible to carbon-free renewable energy technologies – solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydro (though the latter is pretty much tapped out in most regions). We can either build renewable energy capacity on campus or buy green power. This section discusses on-campus renewable energy sources for non-heating and power plant applications. When performing an economic evaluation of these technologies, consider the dollar savings associated with avoiding future costs for RECs or carbon offset purchases. See the "Paying for Campus Renewable Energy Systems" section for resources describing renewable energy financing options.
Many campuses are installing photovoltaic (PV) solar electric arrays. While rarely as cost-effective as energy conservation, PV becomes more cost-effective when conventional electric rates are high and ample incentives are offered by state government or local utilities.
Obviously, the amount of available sunlight is another important factor though PV can work well in all areas. Where there is less sun, you compensate by adding panels to meet a given load. This adds cost and stretches out payback but it works. Where snow may cover panels during winter months, panels can be tilted to shed snow or PV array output can be pro-rated downward to allow for a number of weeks or months when output is nil. The performance of grid-interconnected PV is generally measured in terms of annual power production and most PV production occurs during the warmer months when days are longer and there is less cloud cover. In areas where winter days are cold and clear, angling panels to take advantage of those conditions becomes more important.
There are a variety of financial models for installing PV on campus. Your school can design, purchase and install its own system -- typically with the technical assistance of a consultant or supplier. The relatively high cost and long payback of this kind of investment can be tempered by incentive dollars that reduce the initial or “first cost” of the system. Another financing strategy is to include the cost of the solar energy system in a larger self-financing energy conservation program and, in essence, allow the energy conservation measures (and the dollar savings they produce) to pay for the solar.
Another approach for installing solar on campus is signing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a renewable energy power provider who will install and own a PV system located on your campus. A PPA will oblige a school to purchase power from the PV system for a number of years at rates established by the contract. The primary advantage of this arrangement is that the school is not responsible for the installation, operation, maintenance, or cost of the PV system. Also, this arrangement may allow the energy supplier to take advantage of tax credits which may not be available to the campus.
Maximum output from PV arrays occurs mid-day on hot summer days – precisely the time when regional grids in many areas are under strain because of very high air conditioning loads. At these times, hourly rates for electricity may be much higher than average rates. This coincidence suggests that an analysis of PV cost-effectiveness should be sophisticated enough to factor in the additional dollar savings associated with avoiding that very expensive conventional electricity. PV arrays can also reduce peak demand and peak demand charges. PV dollar payback may still be relatively long though factoring in these additional savings will shorten it somewhat.
In order to claim a CO2 reduction from a campus owned and operated PV system or from a PV PPA, you must own the renewable energy certificates or RECs associated with the output of your system. In the case of a PV system your campus owns, you must not sell the RECs it produces but instead must “retire” them. In the case of a PV PPA, you must buy not only the power produced by the system but also the RECs (see the "Buy Green Power" section for an explanation of RECs.)
AASHE maintains a list of campus PV installations.
Other on-site, on-campus solar options include:
Not only can all three of these technologies be considered for new construction, all three can be either made to work or installed in existing buildings. For example, you may already have buildings with rooms or corridors with ample south-facing glass that allows solar gain during the winter months. This gain may be a nuisance now, causing localized over-heating. Building occupants may be fighting that sunlight with pulled down shades. Your maintenance staff may have solved the problem by installing reflective window film to block the sunlight from entering the building. An alternate approach would be to let the sunlight pass through the windows and put that heat to work by installing thermal mass to store it for use later in the day or by modifying the HVAC system so the heat is captured, transported, and used in another part of the building. Engineering or architecture students may want to study passive or active solar heating options for that kind of campus building as a class or volunteer project.
Similarly with daylighting, you may already have daylit spaces but are not taking advantage of their energy saving opportunity because of inadequate controls on electric lighting. Installing photocells or sensors may be all it takes to keep electric lighting off when daylight from the sun is adequate to illuminate those spaces. Facilities staff or students can survey the campus to look for opportunities of this kind.
Solar hot water systems can be more cost-effective than PV solar electric systems yet are generally less common. Why is that? Maybe it is because piping is harder to install than wiring. Maybe it’s because fewer incentives are available. Also, unlike PV (whose output can always be used by the building it’s mounted on or the local power distribution system its connected to), solar hot water systems must closely match production with demand. And hot water needs may not coincide with those times when solar hot water systems readily produce hot water. On most campuses, hot water demand predominantly occurs in the fall, winter and early spring when the fall and spring semesters are in session. However, in many parts of the country solar gain is not ideal during much of that period: the sun is low in the sky, days are short, and there may be lots of cloud cover or snow. Also, while most campus buildings have hefty appetites for electricity, not all campus buildings have adequate hot water loads to justify a solar hot water system. Buildings with above average hot water needs include athletic facilities, student residences, and food service facilities.
While solar hot water presents some challenges, it is a viable option for campuses interested in demonstrating solar energy. If the “first cost” of such a system is daunting, consider a power purchase agreement with a solar provider that would build, own, and operate “your” solar hot water system while selling you its hot water output. Students and faculty can study the possibility of using solar hot water technology for seasonal solar storage – collecting and storing solar heat collected in the sunny summer for use in the cold cloudy winter.
Some colleges and universities have installed wind turbines on or near campus to meet a portion of their electricity needs. The huge size of the most efficient turbines, i.e. utility scale turbines whose blades reach as high as 400 feet, make them “out of scale” to the rest of a campus and hence there can be challenges to installing them on smaller campuses or near campus buildings. These giant turbines are often better suited to be installed on the periphery of a large campus or on outlying campus property. Some campuses may own distant property and that too can be considered for wind turbine installation -- though in that case getting the power to campus may involve additional delivery costs. It is generally financially advantageous to install wind energy capacity on the campus side of the electric meter.
There are a variety of wind turbine financing options to consider – from campus ownership to buying the output of an on-site turbine through a power purchase agreement – with advantages and disadvantages to each. If your campus is pursuing wind energy, it is important to design your project to take advantage of federal and state incentives, tax credits, and tariff mechanisms which are now in place and are being developed to promote wind energy as well as other renewable energy technologies. As with PV, the campus must own the RECs produced by the turbines in order to take credit for GHG emissions-free power – though it is the introduction of electricity from the turbine (not the RECs) which actually changes the mix of generation away from polluting fossil fuels (see the "Buy Green Power" section for an explanation of RECs.)
Smaller turbines which can be mounted on buildings present another on-campus wind energy option. These can make a statement and have educational value – though their output is likely to be very low given their small wind swept areas.
If your intent is to generate cost-effective electrical power from a wind turbine, then be sure to have a proper professional wind assessment done; it doesn’t protect the climate to waste a lot of steel production putting an industrial wind turbine on an unsuitable site with little wind. This is an exceptionally wasteful mistake to make because the amount of power in the wind is a function of the cube of the wind speed. Thus, even an additional meter/second in wind speed can make a huge difference! Of course, there also will be a need for training turbines, particularly at technical and community colleges, and these obviously need to be placed close to where students are. To avoid waste, these should be smaller analogs of the largest industrial turbines. Refurbished models may be cost effective for this purpose.
AASHE maintains a list of campus wind installations.
See the "Alternatives to Coal" section for discussion of biomass as heating or power plant fuel. Also, students – with help from campus facilities management and relevant academic departments (e.g. chemical engineering) -- may be interested in producing biodiesel on campus using waste fryer grease from campus food service and local fast food restaurants. Students at Oregon State University provide an example of the latter.
Geothermal energy involves tapping underground reservoirs of hot water or steam for space and water heating as well as for electricity generation. Alternately, water can be pumped underground to be heated by hot rocks – though hot rock geothermal generally requires very deep wells ). Geothermal energy resources of this nature are very site specific and not available to many colleges and universities.
In contrast, geothermal or ground source heat pump (GSHP) systems are almost universally applicable. They make use of shallow wells or bore holes (up to a few hundred feet deep) to access the relatively constant temperature of the earth just below the frost line. With the help of electrically powered heat pumps and closed or open water/glycol pipe loops which exchange heat with the ground, these systems use the earth as a heat source and sink -- extracting heat from the ground in the winter and rejecting/storing it there in the summer. As such, geothermal heat pump systems are a kind of renewable energy technology. These systems can also be regarded as energy efficient technology. Unless flowing groundwater is present near the wells, applications need to have both heating & cooling loads to avoid a long term change in the ground temperature.
GSHP systems are applicable to both new buildings and existing buildings. To be cost-effective, they are best suited to buildings which require mechanical air conditioning during the warmer months. If you are striving for passive cooling, then a GSHP system may not make sense. These systems require electricity to run compressors, pumps, and fans though are much more efficient than electric resistance heating. Zero-energy new buildings become a possibility with this technology since it can be powered by electricity generated by PV panels. Achieving this measure of performance on a retrofit basis is very difficult. Depending on the CO2 emitted by your electricity source, GSHP can have a very positive impact on reducing a building’s carbon footprint vs. fossil fuel heating.
Oregon Institute of Technology provides an example of a campus geothermal installation. The National Wildlife Federation provides additional examples of geothermal heat pump-heated and cooled buildings.
Stationary fuel cells which generate electricity and heat are another potentially renewable option for campus installation However, fuel cells powered by natural gas – which is the norm -- are neither renewable nor carbon free. To use a fuel cell to produce GHG emission-free electricity and heat, a carbon-free source of hydrogen would be required. That could come from a hydrolysis process (which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen) that is powered by renewable, carbon-free electricity from either wind turbines or PV panels.
Fuel cells that use natural gas can function as an energy conservation measure and in that capacity reduce GHG emissions.
AASHE maintains a list of campus stationary fuel cells.
In all cases, it is desirable to accompany an on-campus renewable energy installation with an education program or display. Such a display could include metering and monitoring to show real-time performance of the system. This can be conveyed via a kiosk or website or both. Incorporating an educational component contributes to the goal of introducing sustainability and climate change into the curriculum.
It may also be possible to design an on-site solar, wind or biomass system so that it can be used for student or faculty research.
Maximizing the educational and research value of on-site renewable energy installations is a good idea in itself plus it helps compensate for the fact that in many cases these projects are very expensive and have longer paybacks and produce less carbon mitigation than would energy conservation.
University at Buffalo's “Energy for the Future” educational display is an example of a campus energy display.
The preceding discussion about on-site renewable energy options includes some discussion of financing options. For more information on financing on-site renewable energy technologies, see The Business Case for Renewable Energy: A Guide for Colleges and Universities by Andrea Putman and Michael Philips (2006), Alternative Energy Economics by Michael Philips and Lee White (2009), and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
Producing on-campus carbon-free, renewable electricity is difficult and producing enough of it to make a real difference is even harder. That is why many campuses have begun purchasing green power. Institutions striving for carbon neutrality will eventually need to generate electricity on-site with carbon-free sources and shift purchased electricity to green power purchases, or buy carbon offsets to mitigate the carbon emissions embodied in continued conventional power generation and purchases.
There are a variety of benefits associated with buying green power. Green power purchases can:
Green power purchasing typically involves buying renewable energy credits or certificates, referred to as “RECs” or “green tags.” These are purchased in increments of 1,000 kilowatt hours (1 REC = 1,000 kWh or 1 megawatt hour) and represent the “environmental attribute” associated with renewable power. RECs are certified by an independent agency (e.g. Green-e) to guarantee their actual production from a qualifying renewable energy source and to insure that they are not double-counted. Qualifying sources include solar electric, wind, geothermal, and certain types of hydro, biomass and hydrogen fuel cell-derived power.
RECs are sold on “compliance” and “voluntary” markets and typically cost 1 - 3 cents per kWh, a premium cost over and above purchased electricity. Price differences can be attributed to demand, location, provider, and green power generation source. Given the volume of institutional green power purchases, colleges and universities can expect better pricing than residential and small business owners.
Compliance markets are created by policies such as renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to supply increasing percentages of power from renewable sources. Colleges and universities participate in voluntary markets, i.e. pools of customers that voluntarily choose to go green.
While RECs are the most common vehicle for purchasing green power, there is some skepticism about them. Some argue that REC purchasers receive nothing of value other than bragging rights -- despite REC certification regimes by Green-e and state public utility commissions. In many cases – because there is no requirement of “additionality” -- it is not clear whether a given green power purchase is responsible for catalyzing additional generation of renewable power (thus suppressing fossil fuel generation and reducing GHG emissions). Potential customers may wish to ask for evidence that their green power purchase will produce a GHG emissions reduction “in addition” to what would have occurred anyway.
Over time the renewable energy market may move beyond RECs, but for now campuses as well as business and residential customers interested in green power usually deal with RECs. Fortunately, there are strategies that can be used to increase the odds that your green power purchase really produces an environmental benefit. Some of these strategies are described in the next section.
Not all green power is equal. For example, if you are buying biomass-generated electricity, due diligence requires that you examine the source of fuel to insure that its production does not involve forest destruction or other negative environmental impacts. Also, not all green power is carbon-free. A case in point is biomass-generated power since fossil fuels are typically consumed in the process of producing, transporting and processing biomass fuel. Wind, on the other hand, is GHG emissions-free except for the fossil fuel used in making and installing the wind turbines themselves, a carbon debt which wind manufacturers say is paid back within a few months of operation. While these embodied energy issues are generally not considered in campus carbon accounting, investigating them would provide an interesting learning experience for students and faculty.
Hopefully, colleges and universities are buying green power not simply for bragging rights but are doing so out of genuine concern for sustainability. If your purchase of green power does not actually lead to the development of more green power capacity (and thus contribute to a shift in the power generation mix from dirty fossil fuel to a greater percentage of clean renewable-generated power), then no reduction in GHG emissions has been achieved and no environmental benefit has occurred. Thus, it is important that schools consider, as an essential decision-making criteria, the likeliness that a given green power purchase will in fact leverage new renewable power development. It is critically important that it does.
To clarify, let’s see how this might play out in the real world. Perhaps you could buy qualifying hydro power at a cheap price but that purchase is unlikely to motivate developers to build more hydro capacity because additional hydro opportunities are not available. If your other option is to purchase wind energy, whose RECs might cost more but whose purchase will stimulate the construction of the next wind farm, then this perspective says you should buy wind. One can easily imagine some difficult decision-making on campus given the challenges and costs associated with achieving significant cuts in GHG emissions. You could claim greater progress in mitigating carbon emissions by buying a lot of cheap RECs but the progress you are claiming would be imaginary if your REC purchases are not actually helping to shift the mix of generation.
Let’s take this line of thought a few steps further. Are there ways of buying RECs that make it even more likely that that next wind farm, for example, is built? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The best way to leverage new wind capacity is to “buy” and build that new wind farm yourself. The next best approach is to buy wind-generated RECs on a long term contract. With a long-term REC contract in hand a wind developer can secure lower cost financing, vastly increasing the odds that the next wind farm is built. That’s what you want to see happen.
You can further increase the odds that your green power purchase will increase renewable energy capacity by purchasing wind-generated green power on a long term contract specifically from a planned wind farm that is not yet built. This may seen counter-intuitive but this strategy may be effective because it compels the developer to build additional renewable capacity in order to obtain your business. Your ability to leverage that next wind farm grows even further if you also commit to a long-term contract for the electricity output of the wind farm (the “commodity”) as well as the RECs. This approach may also allow you to lock in flat or more level and predictable electricity pricing – thus providing a hedge against future electricity price volatility.
Yes buying green power gets complicated but the bottom line is this. As the renewable energy market evolves, colleges and universities as well as other customers will have new options for buying green power. Smart buyers of green power will chose those options most likely to increase state, national and global renewable energy capacity.
Installing or buying green power and doing energy conservation are GHG mitigation strategies that can complement and synergize each other. Big doses of conservation will save money and reduce your energy load, thus saving more money by decreasing the amount of green power you will need to produce or buy in order to displace fossil fuels. Plus conservation savings can be used to buy green power – thus offsetting those costs. Eliminate waste and reduce those energy needs! There is a lot of magic in energy conservation!
While new construction is sexy and having a LEED Gold or Platinum building on campus certainly gives you real bragging rights, the reality is that each new building adds to your campus carbon footprint unless it is a zero-energy building or it replaces a building that used more energy. While zero-energy buildings may eventually become the norm, with very few exceptions they are not here yet. New campus buildings, even those which are LEED certified or better, may turn out to be energy hogs – and thus are responsible for significant increases in the size of campus carbon footprints, increasing the difficulty of achieving carbon reduction goals.
Colleges and universities committed to reducing their carbon footprints need to look at new construction in a new way. They can save energy dollars and reduce carbon emissions by maximizing the utilization of existing space and avoiding new construction. While it may be difficult to imagine a president of a college or university resisting new construction (since new buildings are often viewed as legacy accomplishments), that’s what is needed.
On many if not most of our campuses inefficient space utilization is the norm. The most desirable spaces may be intensively utilized and fought over while less desirable spaces are cast off and sparsely occupied. Over time, as new buildings are constructed and departments and offices move into those glitzy, high prestige spaces, the areas they leave behind are taken over by existing personnel and offices. What happens is that everyone spreads out with the net effect of decreasing space utilization density. Ever greater areas are “used” while activity and output stays roughly the same.
Our campuses tend to have structural space inefficiencies as well. Consider the academic calendar. At many schools it is common to see beautiful campuses mostly barren of students, faculty and most academic programming for the entire summer -- beginning in early May and stretching to late August. Meanwhile, because staff are still present and departmental offices are still open, all buildings are considered “occupied” and all HVAC equipment is running. This is the way colleges and universities do business but from an energy and climate perspective it does not make sense.
The inefficiency of faculty offices deserves special mention. Faculty members generally have their own offices but these offices may be utilized only few hours a week during 15-17 week spring and fall semesters and completely unoccupied otherwise – all the while these spaces are heated and cooled twelve months of the year as a consequence of building HVAC system design. This is no way to do business if you are in the business of reducing your carbon footprint down to zero!
There are a variety of ways to tackle these problems or, alternately, take advantage of these opportunities – perhaps none are easy but all are possible. Here are some ideas:
The Society of College and University Planning (SCUP) offers a variety of resources campus space utilization.
The U.S. Green Building Council has done a great service by advancing the concept of green buildings through its consensus-based LEED green building rating system. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” A number of LEED certification systems have been developed. The one we are most concerned with here is LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC).
To be LEED certified, buildings must achieve a variety of prerequisites in these categories:
LEED points are earned for achieving various credits in each of these categories. Depending on the number of credit points reached, a LEED building will be either LEED Certified (26-32 points), LEED Silver (33-38 points), LEED Gold (39-51 points), or LEED Platinum(52-69 points).
Examples of campus green buildings are available from the ACUPCC and AASHE. AASHE also maintains a list of campus green building policies. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Campus Campaign also provides helpful resources.
Laboratory buildings tend to be the most energy intensive and energy wasteful buildings on campus because of their 100% outside air ventilation systems, stringent temperature and humidity control requirements, 24/7 operation, and the energy consumed by environmental chambers, water purification systems, ovens, and other research equipment. Making new labs as energy efficient as possible is very important because their energy cost and environmental impacts are so high.
The U.S. Green Building Council has deferred to Labs21, a federal program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE), for establishing guidelines for green design of energy efficient laboratory buildings. Labs21 builds on the LEED green building rating system, adding prerequisites and credits pertaining to health and safety, fume hood energy use, and plug loads.
To improve lab building design, Lab21 provides technical bulletins and best practice guides on numerous subjects including:
There are hundreds of green design strategies and measures. These general principles are among the most important:
Green design strategies, measures, products, specs, guidelines and examples can be found at these websites and others:
The nature of the design process itself is critical. It is important to hire a design consultant with a proven track record in super-efficient green buildings that are not budget busters. Smart design can produce very green buildings with a low premium cost. The process should begin with the consultant leading a green design charrette with all stakeholders in order to establish strong low-carbon green goals for the new building.
It is important to avoid what can be called the “LEED checklist approach” wherein the LEED checklist is cherry-picked to find the cheapest, easiest way to rack up enough points to achieve a LEED rating. Institutions looking to reduce their emissions are not looking for a conventional building which just happens to have enough points to earn a plaque. Your goal should be a thoroughly sustainable design that prioritizes and maximizes energy efficiency and reliance on carbon-free solar and other renewable energy sources.
Many a good design has foundered when the inevitable building budget crisis occurs. What typically happens when the design goes over budget (and this can happen in spades when the original budget was inadequate) is that the energy conservation and sustainable design features are sacrificed first. How to prevent that? One strategy is to anticipate the building budget crisis and already identify ways to bring extra funding into the project. Maybe a wealthy alumnus or alumna will want to make a special contribution to ensure that this project breaks new ground in efficiency and the use of renewable energy. You can also argue that if a measure is on the chopping block – like for example a heat recovery system – and it could be cost effectively retrofitted through a performance contract after the building is constructed, then your school should borrow the money for this measure now and install it as part of new construction when that installation will be cheaper and easier.
It also helps to have strong backers on and off campus demanding an unwavering commitment to super energy efficient green design. While you may not get the kind of support you want from faculty (who may be distracted by the demands of teaching and research) or from professional staff (who may be muted by bureaucratic constraints), your ace in the hole are students. They are free to speak out and may be inclined to raise their voices on behalf of a super efficient building that really makes an environmental statement. Of course, it also helps to remind your administration that a failure to max out on new building energy efficiency will make it that much more difficult and costly to keep your climate goals.
If your campus is proceeding with new construction and is committed to achieving significant GHG emissions reductions, achieving LEED certification or a LEED Silver rating is inadequate. It would be better from an environmental and carbon-reduction perspective if your goal was LEED Gold or Platinum with a maximum number of LEED credit points that reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of the project. While many LEED credits can affect fossil fuel use and the carbon footprint of a new building, here are the credits to focus on:
Sustainable Sites (SS)
Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
The above LEED New Construction credits are most important from the point of view of emissions reductions because they address the major elements of most campuses’ carbon footprints as revealed by GHG inventories, i.e. energy and transportation impacts.
Of course, other LEED credits can also help reduce the carbon footprint of a new building, even if those emissions reductions are not captured by the GHG inventory process. For example, reduced water use or waste water production will reduce energy use regionally and thus reduce GHG emissions (as well as produce other environmental benefits). New construction that involves reusing existing buildings or maximizing the use of certain types of green building materials and products will reduce embodied energy and thus reduce carbon emissions – albeit globally. Since our ultimate goal is saving the planet, pursuing these mitigation strategies is important even if your GHG inventory tool will not give you credit for the reductions.
Green design is generally believed to add cost to new construction projects. This premium, however, is often exaggerated. It is possible to design and construct green buildings with little or no extra cost. That becomes more challenging as the bar is raised for aggressively green, super-efficient buildings.
There are a variety of ways of eliminating or minimizing extra costs for green buildings. For example, in many regions, state or utility company incentives are available to cover costs associated with green design services or reducing the cost of specific energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and products. Hiring an experienced green design firm can also keep costs in line. Moreover, it is possible to “tunnel through the cost barrier” and achieve big savings for less than the costs of small ones.
Tunneling through the cost-barrier, a concept popularized by the Rocky Mountain Institute, requires a whole building design approach that takes advantage of the interaction of building systems. By optimizing some systems (e.g. insulation), other systems can shrink or be eliminated (e.g. heating systems) – thus offsetting the optimization costs. For more information, see Chapter 6 of Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins (1999).
When discussing the cost of green buildings, it is important to distinguish between first costs (i.e. design and construction costs) and lifecycle costs. Life cycle costs include first costs plus the costs to operate and maintain a building for its lifespan – which in the case of a campus building may be 100 years. Additional increments of first cost incurred to make a building much more energy efficient may pay for themselves many times over in energy and carbon offset savings over the life of the building. Payback, in the conventional sense, should become less important because a college or university will own and operate the buildings it constructs for such a long time horizon.
For more information on the cost of green buildings, see USGBC's list of research publications on the cost analysis of whole buildings.
There are a few places where green design goals may conflict. Here are two examples – ventilation and lighting -- plus a few comments about the tricky subject of windows and green design.
Ventilation pros and cons
Care should be taken when considering LEED Environmental Quality (EQ) Credit 2 – Increased Ventilation. Higher ventilation rates typically increase building energy consumption and thus GHG emissions because they require more fan energy and can substantially increase heating and cooling loads. But increased ventilation is a good thing from an indoor environmental health perspective, right? Well, yes, but it comes at a price and its benefit can be minimal.
Building codes mandate that new buildings be designed for ventilation rates appropriate for maximum occupancy, a condition which almost never exists. Thus, it is arguable that a building whose ventilation rate is merely code compliant is already over-ventilated the vast majority of the time and that providing ventilation over and above code requirements (as envisioned by EQ Credit 2) may provide little or no health benefit while substantially increasing energy consumption and GHG emissions.
There are ways to increase ventilation while minimizing energy and GHG penalties -- for example, by installing heat recovery or using variable speed drives and air quality sensors to modulate air flows so that air volume (measured in terms of cfm or cubic feet of outside air per minute) is appropriate to actual occupancy. These technologies are steps in the right direction and should be used extensively but the net effect of increased ventilation is almost always greater energy use and thus a greater carbon footprint.
Direct and Indirect Lighting
Green designs tend to use indirect lighting which eliminates glare and lighting hot spots and may produce more comfortable lighting and thus increase productivity – all important pluses. However, lighting fixtures and designs of this type may be more expensive and less energy efficient in providing illumination on the work surface. As a result indirect lighting may drive material and energy costs up and with them the carbon footprint of building lighting systems.
There are number of ways to cope with the potential downside of indirect lighting. The first is to avoid indirect lighting and instead use conventional direct lighting systems, i.e. recessed troffers. These provide good light and, especially if equipped with high efficiency lenses, can be very efficient.
Another approach is to use indirect lighting fixtures sparingly or to provide a low level of background lighting and then rely on efficient task lighting to put light on the work surface. Note that overall lower foot-candle levels may be acceptable not only because of the availability of task lighting but also because the light quality of new fluorescent lamps (as measured by CRI or color rendering index) is far superior to older fluorescent bulbs and is perceived by the human eye as brighter than foot-candle measurements would lead one to expect. It makes sense to take advantage of this and thus to design for lower foot-candle levels.
Instead of prescribing in detail the kinds of lighting design and fixtures you want, you can give more latitude and require the designer to meet an aggressive performance standard. For example, you could require a building-wide average lighting wattage density of no more than 0.75 – 1.0 watt per square foot – erring on the low side – and of course taking into account the benefits of daylighting.
Sensible, Efficient Use of Glass and Windows
It is common for new buildings, irrespective of LEED rating, to have lots of glass. Large windows, glass walls, and exciting atria can produce beautiful daylit spaces. But glass, unless properly specified and judiciously used, can also have a large energy and GHG penalty.
Daylighting designs should be computer-modeled to ensure that the electric lighting savings they produce are much greater than the additional heating or cooling costs they impose. Also, as obvious as this is, it deserves re-stating: not all windows are equal in their performance. There is a tendency to think that if windows are Energy Star-compliant that is sufficient, but the Energy Star standard for windows is outdated and profoundly inadequate.
Genuine high performance windows should be selected – and in cold winter weather climates that means triple glazed windows with double low-e coatings with center of glass U-values of 0.15 or better. Where south-facing windows are serving a passive solar heating function during the heating season, they should be specified to have as high a Solar Heat Gain Coefficient as possible -- otherwise they will block sunlight and substantially reduce insolation or solar gain. Architectural shading is required for south-facing windows to block direct summer sun entering windows, exacerbating cooling loads.
If you opt for operable windows, an indoor environmental quality benefit, a system should be established so that occupants know when they can open windows and when they need to be shut. Such a system would evaluate the enthalpy or heat content of indoor vs. outdoor air to determine when there is an energy benefit or penalty associated with open windows. Windows can be interlocked with HVAC systems so that heating and cooling is shut off when windows are open.
The Campus Green Builder is an initiative by the Advancing Green Building program at Second Nature. The site was launched on November 2nd 2009 and is a repertoire of resources for those with an interest in green building development either as a hobby or out of necessity.
Community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and other under-resourced institutions are often at a disadvantage due to the lack of funds, lack of expertise and lack of exposure to readily available resources. With technical, financial, educational, various other resources and discounted memberships, Campus Green Builder aims to provide its audience with a central location where they can start acquiring the knowledge and tools to become familiar with sustainable development.
Though relevant to higher education as a whole, Campus Green Builder is particularly beneficial for under-resourced institutions considering building green on their campus but do not know where to start and are not aware of the assistance available in their regions and states. For example, under the financial section of the site an individual in Alabama can sort for state funding and find out that “Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) offers a production-based incentive program for the installation of solar photovoltaics (PV), wind, low-impact hydropower, and biomass to customers of the Tennessee Valley.”
The Campus Green Builder provides hundreds of links to green building-related web sites, directories of experts, and resources for training and funding opportunities. This web portal is also excellent for accessing green building related news, events and networking resources. Finding an expert in your region to discuss your plans or assess green building potential on your campus is now easier than before by going to the many green expert directories on the Campus Green Builder website. The hope is that this web portal will be the stepping stone, a starting point in other words, to explore various opportunities through not only resources but also case studies of under-resourced institutions and networking with other higher education individuals.
Did you know the Los Angeles Community College District is taking nine of its colleges off the grid? How are they planning to do this? Visit the East L.A. College Case Study on the Campus Green Builder to find out!
To read the news release regarding the Campus Green Builder launch, click here.
For more information about the Advancing Green Building program, contact Program Director Amy Seif Hattan or Program Manager Ashka Naik.
For information about Advancing Green Building internship opportunities for graduate students and college seniors, please visit the Employment Opportunities section.
For ACUPCC institutions, climate neutrality is defined to include reducing, eliminating, or offsetting the GHG emissions associated with the operation of fleet vehicles; student, faculty and staff commuting; and business air travel. Even schools which have not made a total commitment to addressing these emissions will be interested in reducing them and other environmental, social, and public health impacts associated with these campus-related activities. Of the three, commuting generally involves the largest carbon footprint. It poses a huge challenge.
The Transportation section of AASHE's Resource Center has an abundance of resources on transportation solutions including an extensive listing of campus alternative transportation websites. The Transportation Demand Management Encyclopedia and the Transportation Demand Management and Telework Clearinghouse are also helpful resources.
Facilities managers can address GHG emissions associated with fleet vehicles in a variety of ways which include:
The latter is an issue on campuses where some facilities staff may leave their vehicles running much of the day during colder winter months to keep them warm and comfortable even though they are only driving them a few minutes a day. You can see whether this is happening by direct observation or by analyzing data on vehicle mileage and gas fill-ups (if your facilities unit keeps this information). If winter mpg drops to single digits, it may be due to excessive idling.
Campuses may be in the habit of buying fuel inefficient vehicles for a variety of reasons. For example, it may be assumed, mistakenly, that all facilities staff need to drive around in trucks or four wheel drive vehicles. Some state-affiliated schools may find that state contracts make it cheaper to buy larger fuel inefficient vehicles. These barriers and others to buying highly fuel efficient vehicles need to be addressed and overcome.
Electric vehicles, even those powered by a regional electric grid that is not especially clean, tend to be less carbon-intensive than standard gasoline-powered vehicles. Small GEM type electrics are better suited to warmer climates or to summer-only use in campuses with cold winters. Facilities staff could also ride bicycles to meetings on other parts of the campus if the dress code is relaxed. Wearing informal clothing also makes it possible to air condition less – another benefit to your “low carbon bottom-line.”
Using biodiesel for fleet vehicles raises some issues. Remember that B20 biodiesel fuel is only 20% biodiesel and 80% conventional diesel fuel, and even the biodiesel portion is probably not fully carbon-free because fossil fuels may be consumed in its manufacture or shipping. Switching to biodiesel blends which are richer in biodiesel is desirable though can be problematic in colder climates due to the increased viscosity of biodiesel as the temperature drops. One solution might be to use B100 (100% biodiesel) during the summer months and switch back to B20 during colder weather.
Biodiesel is a good fit for campus buses as well as larger facilities vehicles. While most college and university facilities units will not be interested in manufacturing their own biodiesel (since it is an extra task and they are probably already short-staffed), some have been approached by students and faculty interested in seeing campus food service waste fryer grease converted to biodiesel to run campus buses or fleet vehicles. Such an arrangement would have significant educational value. Conceivably, a campus-based biodiesel production facility could be designed, operated, and monitored by students under faculty and facilities supervision.
Conversion of fleet vehicles to compressed natural gas generally requires the installation of a CNG refueling station on or very near campus. This can be an expensive undertaking – though might be subsidized by state energy offices that are promoting alternatively fueled vehicles or by local natural gas utilities interested in selling more natural gas. Duel-fuel CNG vehicles can be purchased or existing gasoline-powered vehicles can be kit-converted to CNG. Campus buses also can be CNG powered. If campus bussing is provided on contract by an outside vendor, then new contract language specifying an alternative fuel will be required next time this service goes out to bid.
Operating a car, truck or bus on CNG will reduce GHG emissions by about 25% compared to gasoline operation. There can be substantial cost savings associated with using CNG vehicles (in comparison to gasoline) but this benefit vanishes when gasoline prices are low and natural gas prices are high. Assuming gasoline and CNG vehicles operate at roughly the same efficiency, $2 a gallon gasoline roughly equals $7/MCF natural gas.
The larger transportation problem is commuting. At most colleges and universities, commuters dominate and typically arrive and depart from campus in single occupancy vehicles – many with poor fuel economy. Commuting by students, faculty and staff may add up to many millions of miles of driving per year at larger schools – and thus represent a substantial part of the campus carbon footprint.
Here are some strategies for reducing commuting and its GHG impact:
Raise awareness of transportation alternatives
Increase use of public transit by students, faculty and staff
**Increase bicycling **
Reduce on-campus driving
Reduce the need to single occupancy vehicle (SOV) commute
**Re-focus campus parking policy **
Reduce the carbon-intensity of vehicles used for commuting
Addressing the business air travel component of your school’s carbon footprint involves setting up a mechanism to track official campus business air travel, calculating the GHG emissions associated with those flights, and then mitigating or offsetting the emissions.
The Clean Air-Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator is able to calculate and include air travel-related emissions in your campus GHG emissions inventory.
The simplest option you have for mitigating these emissions is encouraging less air travel. Providing easy access to teleconferencing would help make it easier and far cheaper for faculty and staff to connect with colleagues electronically. A more controversial step would be to mandate less travel, though with budget cuts affecting schools nationwide there simply may be less money allowed for air travel.
It may not be intuitive, but waste disposal and waste management practices impact our carbon footprints. A big part of the reason is that throwing things away -- just like every other activity – involves energy consumption and that typically means burning fossil fuels. Also, if garbage and trash are burned, there are additional releases of carbon dioxide – though some of those emissions can be mitigated or offset if the waste is burned in a waste-to-energy plant because such a plant displaces fossil fuel combustion. If the end point for your campus garbage and trash is a landfill, methane will be produced through decomposition. On a mass basis, methane has around 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide – so landfills can have a substantial climate change impact. This climate impact of landfills is mitigated if the methane is captured and either “flared” (burned in the open atmosphere – releasing water vapor and carbon dioxide) or burned in a boiler or power generating unit to produce useful heat or electricity that displaces the fossil fuels that would otherwise be used to produce that heat or power. Thus, while the devil may be in the details, it is clear that reducing waste disposal can be an effective GHG mitigation strategy.
Campuses can cut waste through waste reduction programs (buy and use less, reuse, etc.) and by improved recycling and composting programs. Recycling keeps waste out of both the incinerator and landfill. It also contributes to the manufacture of new products made of recycled materials which are more energy efficient to make and, thus, are responsible for less GHG emissions. Composting prevents organic waste (kitchen produce waste plus landscaping trimmings) from being needlessly transported to the landfill and turns these materials into a useful product for keeping the campus green.
Participating in the annual Recyclemania competition is a great way to improve and boost recycling on your campus.
CA-CP’s Campus Carbon Calculator will calculate the emissions associated with campus waste volumes, how that waste is disposed of, and the amount of recycling your school is doing. The Calculator will not, however, calculate the GHG emissions benefit associated with “closing the loop,” i.e. using recovered materials to produce products with recycled content – though that climate protection benefit is real nonetheless.
As just pointed out, not all campus GHG emitting activities are captured by greenhouse gas emissions inventory tools. However, since our ultimate goal is to address the problem of climate change in as comprehensive and effective a way possible, it is important that all GHG emissions sources be identified and as many as possible mitigated irrespective of whether we can quantify or take credit for the benefits.
Since nearly everything that is purchased contains embodied fossil fuel and thus GHG emissions, purchasing policies and practices are of critical importance even though their related emissions and mitigations fall in the categories of “can’t be quantified” and “can’t be used for carbon credit.” To reduce these GHG emissions, colleges and universities can:
Another way of addressing this issue would be to buy carbon neutral products. The market is just beginning to develop. The Carbon Reduction Institute has developed a certification program for carbon neutral companies and products.
AASHE maintains a list of campus green purchasing websites. Two additional resources are the Responsible Purchasing Network and Buying for the Future: Contract Management and the Environmental Challenge by Kevin Lyons (2000).
Another area of campus activity that can have a substantial GHG impact (though not quantified by your GHG emissions inventory) is campus food service and food choices. Mitigation strategies here include:
There are many reasons to buy locally produced food including benefits to the local farmers and the regional economy and establishing a connection between the food we eat and where and how it is produced.
Kitchen cooking equipment can be notoriously inefficient. Think industrialize-size toasters that are left on whenever the foot service outlets are open – probably consuming enough electricity and producing enough waste heat to heat an average home. Think pizza ovens left open – constantly venting heat. Kitchens also have ventilated cooking hoods over stoves that pull a lot of heated air out of the building (and may or may not be equipped with heat recovery to reduce that waste). If the cooking occurs in campus buildings, its carbon footprint will be captured by your GHG inventory.
Composting pre- and post-consumer food waste reduces solid waste disposal, produces soil amendments for campus gardens, and can serve an educational purpose – especially if students are involved in setting up the program, collecting the compostables, and managing the compost pile.
In 2007 the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization released a comprehensive report entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow which documents the global environmental impacts of meat production. One eye-opening finding of this report is that livestock production is responsible for 18% of annual global greenhouse emissions – a larger slice of the “emissions pie” than the transportation sector. Thus, food choices and diet deserve at least as much consideration as transportation choices, and eating less meat becomes an important GHG mitigation strategy. However, some sensitivity is required when encouraging people to eat less meat or try a vegetarian diet because in our society food choice is considered to be a more private matter than, say, vehicle or light bulb choice. But whether we like it or not, the disproportionately large carbon footprint of a hamburger is just one more inconvenient truth about climate change. It’s important that we educate about all the behaviors and activities that contribute to global climate change and encourage people to take action to reduce their climate impact.
Clean Air-Cool Planet is in the process of developing a module for its Campus Carbon Calculator that will calculate the carbon footprint of campus food service, highlighting the need to address diet as well as operations.
AASHE maintains a list of campus websites on sustainable dining initiatives.
Internal GHG emissions reductions must be the first priority of colleges and universities committed to reducing their carbon footprint. However, despite our best efforts, in the short to mid-term, the majority of colleges and universities will be only partially successful in eliminating their GHG emissions. Remaining GHG emissions can be offset by purchasing financial instruments that help pay for projects which reduce GHG emissions elsewhere, i.e. not on our campuses, or by using our own resources to create these kinds of projects in the wider community. In addition to taking us those last steps in carbon reduction, carbon offsets may be used to meet interim CAP emissions reduction targets when good faith internal reduction efforts fall short. It’s a simple concept. But the devil’s in the details.
Carbon offsets can be produced in a number of ways. For example, energy conservation and efficiency, fuel switching, renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage projects can prevent or avoid the release of GHG emissions into the atmosphere – and hence may produce legitimate carbon offsets.
Reforestation projects can remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in biomass – at least temporarily -- and hence may count as valid carbon offsets.
Capturing the methane produced at landfills and flaring it (burning it in the atmosphere to convert it to less harmful carbon dioxide) can decrease the GHG emissions impact of landfills -- and hence may produce valid carbon offsets. On a mass basis, methane is a much more powerful GHG than carbon dioxide; that’s why it is advantageous from a climate protection point of view to flare methane even though the end result is an atmospheric release of carbon dioxide. It is even better – and more productive in terms of carbon offsetting ¬– to burn the landfill-harvested methane in a boiler or turbine that generates electricity and useful heat, thus displacing the fossil fuels which would have otherwise been burned for those purposes. Such a combination strategy would increase the offset value.
The destruction of industrial refrigerants (CFCs and HCFCs, for example) and other climate-harming gases is also beneficial from a climate protection perspective – and thus another means of producing “carbon” offsets. In all cases, however, certain conditions must be met before these kinds of projects can be regarded as producing legitimate carbon offsets
At present, the carbon offset market is in its infancy and buying offsets might seem a little like buying “a pig in a poke.” If that phrase is unfamiliar, it means (as per the Wikipedia): “to make a risky purchase without inspecting the item beforehand.” Another way of saying it would be “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware). There is a great deal of skepticism about carbon offsets. For various reasons carbon offsets have been perceived as:
• Producing little or no real GHG emissions reduction benefit
• A way of excusing bad behavior or buying one’s way out
• An example of green-washing
But with the right guarantees and third party certification carbon offsets can produce real emissions reductions, and in that case those who are responsible for creating or financing these reductions have the right to take credit for them.
The ACUPCC Voluntary Carbon Offset Protocol provides guidance for purchasing valid, high quality offsets. According to the Protocol, these offsets must be:
All of these attributes have technical meanings which are explained in the Protocol.
While all of them are important, the concept of “additionality” deserves highlighting. Quality offsets must produce GHG emissions reduction “in addition” to what would have occurred anyway or as a matter of “business as usual.” Carbon offsets will be viewed skeptically until the carbon offset market identifies convincing ways to demonstrate additionality.
A confusing offset condition is that of permanence. This criteria does not require that the carbon offset be permanent in the sense of producing carbon reductions year after year forever. Quite the contrary since it is understood that the projects which produce carbon reduction will not last forever and thus carbon offsets are time-bounded instruments. For example, your school’s purchase of carbon offsets may make it possible for a wind turbine to be erected and operated – however, that turbine will only last for a discrete number of years and your claim to be offsetting carbon through your investment in that turbine lasts only as long as the turbine lasts (or for whatever duration specified by your offset).
The permanence criteria applies primarily to biological sequestration. Imagine that you have purchased carbon offsets based on funding a reforestation project. If the trees your offset money helped plant and care for are eventually cut down, that act not only ends any future carbon sequestration by those trees but may also undo and releases back into the atmosphere the carbon which was biologically sequestered by those trees in previous years – thus undoing the offsets that you previously counted. The “permanence” requirement is to prevent that circumstance from occurring. It underscores the difficulty of using and counting biological carbon sequestration.
Schools can purchase offsets on retail and wholesale markets or create them by developing projects which result in emissions reductions. The latter option allows colleges and universities to work with groups and individuals in their own communities or in remote locations to create clean energy or energy saving projects. The Guidelines accompanying the ACUPCC Voluntary Carbon Offset Protocol provide helpful qualifying criteria for these projects.
When should you begin purchasing carbon offsets? Since there is a cost associated with carbon offsets, the natural tendency would be to delay buying offsets as long as possible. Delay would also allow the market to mature and become more reliable before jumping in.
A logical approach to timing the purchase of carbon offsets would be to buy them incrementally and in appropriate amounts to help meet aggressive interim GHG emissions targets in your climate action plan or when interim targets are unexpectedly not fully met because of insufficient internal emissions reduction efforts.
If you are planning to create your own carbon offsets by sponsoring clean energy projects in your own community or state, then work on these projects should begin much earlier than you expect to be able to claim the offsets. Of course, even if you are planning to simply purchase offsets from the market, research and planning in advance of anticipated purchase dates is essential.
For more information about carbon offsets, please see the [FAQ section] of the ACUPCC Voluntary Carbon Offset Protocol. Scroll down and see links to various recommended resources on carbon offsets. Also see Clean Air Cool Planet's Consumer's Guide to Retail Carbon Offset Providers -- though this report is somewhat dated (2006).
The search for cost-effective ways of off-setting campus carbon emissions may lead some colleges and universities to consider counting the carbon which campus biomass removes from the atmosphere and sequesters annually. Campuses with large forested land areas would seem to have a large offset potential. However, there is a big difference between forests which sequester carbon (they all do unless they stop growing, are cut, or burned) and forests whose carbon sequestration can count as a legitimate carbon offset. In order for campus biological carbon sequestration to count as a carbon offset that sequestration must be “additional” to what would have occurred anyway. In other words, it would be misleading to count the carbon which is sequestered in already existing forest land as an offset and subtract that carbon from your campus GHG emissions total. However, carbon sequestration of newly planted forest could be counted as an offset as could any additional carbon uptake associated with changes in forest management.
The issue of “permanence” also arises when we consider biological carbon sequestration. See section above for more details.
While there are legitimate barriers to counting campus biomass carbon sequestration as carbon offsets in your GHG inventory or taking credit for them in your CAP, it still makes sense to protect campus green space and forested land – for all the traditional environmental and social reasons and because of climate change. When trees are cut down, they are lost as a carbon sink. Moreover, even if the carbon sequestration associated with campus biomass cannot be counted as an offset, it is still OK to state in your GHG inventory summary or CAP that your campus has X amount of forested land and those trees are sequestering Y amount of carbon annually. Publicizing that kind of information may help campus environmental advocates protect campus greenspace when plans are unveiled to start cutting trees on campus to clear land for that next campus research building, dormitory or apartment complex.
For more information on this complicated issue, see page 42 of the ACUPCC’s Investing in Carbon Offsets: Guidelines for ACUPCC Institutions. Also see the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry Guidance for GHG Project Accounting.