Roughly 70% of the energy our society uses currently comes from burning fossil fuels, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that drive climate change, harm human health and devastate the environment upon which our economy depends. Achieving energy sustainability requires reducing our use of these fuel sources and transitioning to clean energy systems. Thankfully, wind and solar energy technologies have grown rapidly, and in some circumstances now provide lower-cost electricity than fossil fuels.
However, making our energy system smarter and more sustainable goes well beyond affordable wind and solar technologies. We also need more research innovation, changes in public policies and smarter systems to better manage energy demands.
Recently, the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State University led the school’s effort to update its Climate Action Plan, outlining how the university can achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and most critically, address 55% of our current emissions by 2030.
Within the plan, the university’s proposed combined heat and power facility, or CHP, is the largest singular action to achieve emissions reductions. Other activities include investing significantly in energy efficiency, offsetting air travel emissions and producing additional solar energy on campus. This adds to actions Ohio State has already taken, including purchasing 50 megawatts of wind energy capacity from an Ohio wind farm and installing over 400 geothermal wells on the South Oval.
I wholeheartedly agree with the rationale that moving to 100% renewable energy now would be best. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible at the scale that Ohio State requires, particularly for generating heat. While renewable energy is adept at generating electricity, it continues to lag in providing a scalable and affordable way to heat buildings. In this regard, natural gas is a preferable fuel to coal to generate heat, as it creates fewer emissions.
The proposed CHP is one component of an updated energy system for Ohio State that serves academic, research and medical care space and will allow for expansion within a planned West Campus Innovation District. The university’s existing natural gas-fueled heating facility, the century-old McCracken Power Plant, cannot efficiently meet the university’s increasing heating demand.