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Harvard University Sets Course To Be Fossil-Fuel-Free by 2050

Credit: sswj, Flickr Creative Commons

Harvard University seeks to be fossil-fuel-free by 2050, according to a new plan based on recommendations from a task force made up of students, faculty members, and senior administrators.

“An analysis done by the task force found that the full scope of damages associated with Harvard using fossil fuels to provide the energy services it needs to perform its mission are at least $25 million a year,” task force co-chair and Harvard Kennedy School professor Bill Clark told the Harvard Gazette. He added that most of that is due to climate impacts and the rest is related to the human health effects of other pollutants.

The goal is in line with the 2050 standard set by Boston and Cambridge for local institutions and companies, task force co-chair and Harvard Business School professor Rebecca M. Henderson said in a Q&A with Clark for the Gazette.

In order to achieve that goal, the university’s strategy calls for:

  • Purchased electricity from clean, renewable sources of energy that do not burn fossil fuels, such as solar or offshore wind
  • A district energy system that will operate without fossil fuels
  • University-owned vehicles that operate without fossil fuels
  • Setting targets for purchasing externally-provided services or activities that rely as little as possible on fossil fuels
Harvard University’s Neutral Goal for 2026

The university’s president Drew Faust also said in an open letter that the institution will strive to become fossil-fuel-neutral by 2026.

To reach that interim goal, the university will invest in power purchase agreements, buying renewable energy certificates, and other similar projects, Henderson said in the interview.

“We believe that the current state of technology and science suggests that we could become fossil-fuel-neutral for relatively small amounts of money, on the order of 1 to 3 percent of energy costs,” she said. “We have every reason to believe that those costs will go down over time.”

Henderson, whose research looks at the effect of strong demand signals on technical innovation, sees Harvard contributing to the generation of demand for fossil-free-energy, driving costs down. While the current goal is significant, the university previously achieved a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on campus from 2006 to 2016.

American Colleges and Universities Follow Energy Trend

The famed institution joins an increasing number of colleges and universities around the country that are working to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier last year, Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut worked with FuelCell Energy on installing a 1.4 megawatt fuel cell power plant that should help the college save about 30% annually on energy costs. The University of Bridgeport also worked with FuelCell Energy in the state on a megawatt-class fuel cell microgrid to make the university’s grid independent.

Retrofits have been popular. In Ohio, Belmont College began working on a $7.91 million upgrade of its main campus building that includes new roof, replacing the HVAC, converting to LEDs, and other energy efficiency changes. Howard University completed an exterior LED retrofit project last October that has saved money, lowered emissions, and made the campus safer.

Bucknell University installed LEDs at four sites on campus last year. In December, their new health and wellness building earned LEED Silver certification, using 26% less energy than buildings that have conventional energy systems. University of Maryland secured $18.3 million this month from the Maryland Clean Energy Center to develop an energy efficiency project for eight buildings on campus, which covers LED lighting upgrades and lab ventilation control updates.

On the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, a decommissioned heating plant was converted to a combined heat and power plant expected to save the institution an estimated net $2 million annually. In Massachusetts, Hampshire College announced last month that it achieved 100% solar power for the liberal arts school campus.

“I think it is terrific that a little college in snow country can go 100% solar,” Hampshire College president Jonathan Lash told the Greenfield Recorder. “If we can do it, anybody can do it.”

The 3rd Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 15 – 17, 2018 in Denver. Learn more here.

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