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Determine Baseline Energy Consumption

To create a climate action plan for your research campus, begin by determining current energy consumption and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. You can then break down emissions by sector. It important to understand the following at the beginning:

The Importance of a Baseline

"The baseline inventory also provides a common data set for establishing benchmarks and priorities during the strategic planning stage and a means for estimating associated resource costs and benefits."

Source: The Educational Professional's Practical Guide to Reducing the Campus Carbon Footprint.

Energy consumption and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than energy savings at most U.S. research campuses as the scope of operations increases and services expand. Furthermore, research campuses and laboratory buildings consume more energy than typical facilities. Energy-intensive research, data centers, and safety and ventilation requirements drive up consumption and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. This presents a challenge and an opportunity to create climate action plans to move towards climate-neutral research campuses.

Conduct Energy Audit to Determine Carbon Footprint

Graph titled "Business-as-Usual Scenario" that shows a line increasing from left to right with the energy consumption presenting on the abscissa and time labeled historical, present, and future on the ordinate.  The line into the future is dashed and shown in a pastel color to indicate the future projection for energy consumption is a continuation from data representing trends in the past.

The "Business as Usual Scenario" is outlined by continuing the line extending historical consumption into the future.

Before assembling data, you must set a scope for the audit. The scope should identify the campus boundary and any off-site energy impacts you will be calculating. For example, the fuel consumed during integral business activities—commuting to work or traveling for business purposes—is usually included in the baseline. However, the impacts of joint ventures that take place off-site are often calculated separately. If your campus operates satellite research sites, you must also determine which of these facilities will be considered in the greenhouse gas inventory.

The greenhouse gas inventory consists of three parts:

  • Scope 1: Direct combustion of fuels at your site. Carbon emissions from direct combustion readily translate from fuel consumption data using standard engineering formulas.

  • Scope 2: Indirect impact from purchased electricity. Carbon emissions from electricity consumption can be obtained for your utility company, region, and state from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Emissions and Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).

  • Scope 3: Transportation impacts from commuters and business travel, which can be derived from surveys of commuter and business travel patterns.

Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory by Sector

Graph titled "Carbon Emissions Inventory" showing three pie charts for Cornell University, Duke University, and Cal Poly Tech.  Each circular pie chart has three components: transportation (blue), fuels for heating and combustion (green), and electricity from the power company (green-beige).   For Cornell University:  18% transportation (blue), 55% fuels (green), 27% electricity (green-beige).  For Duke University:  22% transportation (blue), 25% fuels (green), 53% electricity (green-beige).  For Cal Poly Tech, 55% transportation (blue), 15% fuels (green), 28% electricity (green-beige).

The carbon emissions profiles of three campuses reflect their environment, physical plants, and carbon content of purchased electricity. Located in up-state New York, Cornell University has large heating loads. For cooling, the university draws on a renewable energy resource (deep-water cooling), which results in almost zero carbon emissions. Duke University, located in North Carolina, has large, electric, cooling loads and small heating loads. Both Cornell and Duke include coal in the fuel mix for heating the campus. The carbon factor for electricity in New York is low while North Carolina is high. Cal Poly Tech is a commuter school in a mild climate, and as a result, commuter travel dominates its carbon emissions profile.

The result of the greenhouse gas inventory shows emissions by source for a base year. You will set future reduction targets using this base year as a starting point. The source breakdown of carbon emissions will direct your climate action plan toward the activities with the greatest emissions.

A number of resources explain inventory charting methods and how to calculate carbon emissions:

After completing this part of your climate action plan, the next step is to analyze technology options.