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July 26, 2017

New Report Spotlights Role of Renewables in Achieving Higher Education Climate Goals

By Edison Energy

For the past decade or more, colleges and universities have engaged in leadership efforts to tackle the sector’s contribution to climate change. But are they on track to meet their targets? And how widespread is higher education’s use of renewables?

A new Edison Energy Executive Report, Assessing the Higher Education Sector’s Use of Renewable Energy, shows that campuses need to rapidly ramp up their renewable energy use or risk missing their marks.

More than 600 U.S. colleges and universities have committed to significant long-term reductions of their carbon emissions, and have developed climate action plans that commit to significant use of renewable energy.

In 2012, Second Nature and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) published Higher Education: Leading the Nation to a Safe and Secure Energy Future, and detailed higher education’s collective potential impact:

  • Colleges and universities annually expend more than $14 billion in operations and maintenance of buildings and grounds;
  • Colleges and universities spend between $6 billion and $7 billion each year on energy and utilities, about three quarters of which is directed toward electricity generation, transmission, and use, and;
  • U.S. higher education’s collective operational budgets total $350 billion annually.

This spending power means campuses could play a significant role in catalyzing renewable energy, serving as market leaders on this issue.

Recent research has shown that while colleges and universities are successfully reducing energy use intensity, simultaneous campus growth is largely negating these gains. Thus, while efficiency efforts have been effective, efficiency efforts alone won’t allow institutions to achieve their expressed carbon reduction goals and aspirations.

This spending power means campuses could play a significant role in catalyzing renewable energy, serving as market leaders on this issue.”

The new renewable energy study, published by Edison Energy and the University of New Hampshire’s Sustainability Institute, completes the picture by assessing higher education’s use of renewable energy, compared to its carbon and energy goals.

The study concludes that renewable energy is the linchpin to achieving the sector’s ambitious greenhouse gas reductions, but that the pace of the transition to renewables is currently too slow to meet the sector’s milestones. The report includes a discussion about the strategies being successfully employed by campuses that are on track to meet their goals, including onsite solar as well as large-scale renewable energy sourcing through offsite power purchase agreements.

The most promising examples are helping campuses cut energy costs and reduce energy risk, and integrating teaching and research opportunities, all while meeting climate and energy goals. The U.S EPA’s Green Power Partnership ranks higher education’s Top 30 renewable energy leaders and also leaders by intercollegiate athletic conference.

Howard University in Washington, D.C. is a recent example of renewables leadership. Howard is deploying a multi-site on-campus solar portfolio. Read more about that project here.

Assessing the Higher Education Sector’s Use of Renewable Energy is available now. Download the report here.