The University has reduced its carbon emissions by 30.6 percent since 2007, putting it ahead of the schedule laid out in its 12-year plan, according to a sustainability progress report released earlier this semester.
“We’re supposed to be at 22 percent — we’re at 30.6, so that’s the good news,” said Christopher Powell, director of the Office of Sustainable Energy and Environmental Initiatives at Facilities Management. But “as you get through a program like this, it gets harder and harder to make your goals — you’ve already uncovered the more obvious efficiency work.”
The January 2016 sustainability plan calls on the University to reduce its carbon emissions by 42 percent by 2020.
The University switched fuel sources at its main heat plant early in the implementation of its plan, moving from fuel oil to natural gas. The University has also upgraded the lighting in 91 buildings and refitted thermostats and steam valves across campus. These changes have helped Brown decrease carbon emissions, but Powell said the next steps are going to be “long-term investments,” using “deeper technologies.”
Some of these potential technologies include processes that could reuse waste heat. A heat recovery chiller would take waste heat from a lab and convert it into thermal energy for the building, for example.
Heating and cooling labs at Brown account for almost half the energy use of the entire campus, Powell said.
“No matter how good we do at academic, administration buildings and dorms, if we don’t tackle the lab buildings we won’t get to that next level of greenhouse gas reduction,” Powell said.
Another future project might include putting solar panels on the roof of the Rockefeller Library, Powell added.
EmPOWER, Brown’s umbrella student environmental organization, has also been discussing the installation of solar panels on campus.
The group is evaluating Young Orchard and Perkins Hall, said Jeff Baum , a member of EmPOWER’s steering committee. These buildings have “pretty flat roofs and get tons of sun exposure,” Baum said.
But both Baum and Powell said technology alone will not solve the problem.
Along with new technology, community involvement is necessary to improve energy efficiency, Powell said. “When you talk to a lot of the climate scientists, they’re saying technology by itself can’t get you there. We have to change people’s behaviors.”
The Office of Sustainable Energy has initiated programs aimed at helping students understand how their actions impact carbon emissions, including a Main Green demonstration of how to turn down radiators, Powell said. “The radiators work now,” he said, so it is possible to control the temperature from inside instead of letting heat out through the window.
“I don’t think EmPOWER is involved with the last 12 percent — it’s high-level engineering stuff,” Baum said. But the group remains focused on community outreach and engaging the student body.
“You can engineer all you want — if people aren’t going to be smart about the way they use energy, that won’t make a difference,” because previous gains could be erased, he said.
Brown has the lowest energy use per square foot of any Ivy League school, Powell said, but Brown started its program of energy improvements earlier than peer institutions.