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Decarbonizing campuses

By District Energy posted 04-24-2023 15:35


American School & University


Previous pronouncements about the harmful effect of greenhouse gas emissions have not persuaded enough people to the take the urgent actions needed to reverse global warming, but the message has been taken seriously at many U.S. colleges and universities. Through initiatives like the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, hundreds of higher education institutions have pledged to decarbonize—reduce the carbon footprint generated by buildings and operations on their campuses—and have taken concrete steps to make the pledges a reality.

Several schools have attained carbon neutral status or have made significant progress.

“It used to be, ‘How are we going to do this? This is so hard. No one is listening to me. No one’s funding this. What are we going to do?’” says Martha Larson, director of sustainability for RMF Engineering, which works with colleges and universities on campus decarbonization. “Now the conversations all say, ‘Here’s a project that’s done. Here’s a campus that reduced carbon emissions by 70% or 80%...People have demonstrated practical solutions and really remarkable results.”

Many college campuses are good candidates for successful decarbonization because they have district energy systems where a central plant generates energy for many facilities—anywhere from 50% to 90% of the buildings on a campus. “That’s a good opportunity because a lot of that really hard work and heavy lifting of how to decarbonize energy generation can happen in one place, the central plant,” Larson says. “When everything is centralized, we can combine using our cooling loads, where we’re trying to reject waste heat, and we can funnel that waste heat directly into our heating loads. Through technologies that are rapidly evolving—usually it’s a heat pump technology—it’s a great way to recover heat and move heat around before we have to make new heat.”

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