Report calls upon universities to lead renewable energy
A press release from the Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center published on March 8 calls for America’s colleges and universities to lead an initiative toward 100 percent renewable energy and state-wide carbon emission reduction goals. University and local environment leaders gathered to discuss the University’s role in the campaign on Wednesday.
“We’re here today to stress the urgent need for rapid transition to clean energy, and to highlight the role that colleges and universities specifically can play,” said Rachel Gerber ’19, campus coordinator for the Center on Wednesday.
In advocacy of the 100% Renewable Energy Act, co-sponsored by 55 representatives of the Massachusetts Legislature, the Center calls upon universities as “well-suited” to lead the initiative. As high-energy consumers and owners of large physical surface area for hosting clean energy technology, such as solar panels and wind turbines, universities are particularly appropriate. Additionally, the report seeks to rely on higher institutions as “leaders of innovation and training” in educating students who are the future leaders of environmental policy and advocacy, said Gerber.
“There’s obviously the ability to protect the planet, but also, at the same time, the reason this works is there’s the ability to protect your pocket,” said guest speaker Michael Logan, the director of operations at Waltham-based Sunlight Solar Energy, Inc. Logan emphasized that there are major financial incentives for universities to adopt renewable energy infrastructures.
In 2012, his company installed a 50-kilowatt system at Brown University in Rhode Island that annually produces 70,000 kilowatt-hours, cutting $13,000 dollars off of their utility bill and returning $17,000 in renewable energy credits.
“A lot of times, it’s educating people on finances behind it to really give them that push to go solar,” said Logan, who added that his commercial customer sees a return on their investment in three to four years. “So many people have misconceptions of solar energy. … They can’t believe that they’re going to be getting electricity for free after four or five years and that they’re no longer going to have utility bills. It sounds too good to be true.”
Regarding the Environmental Massachusetts report, Logan said that he believes students are the push and demand behind universities becoming sustainability leaders in the 100 percent renewable energy initiative.
He also agreed that university landscapes relieve the pushback regarding aesthetic concerns of solar panels. However, it is a sight that people need to get used to, said Logan. “That’s what [the future] is going to look like –– it’s going to look like solar panels in your yards, solar panels on your roof and wind turbines, possibly on the coasts and in the marshes.”
“Even if we covered every inch of available roof space with solar canopies, we still would only get a few percent of our electricity through solar,” said Mary Fischer, the University’s manager of Sustainability Programs, who spoke of the University’s current initiatives and objectives.
In terms of renewable energy, the University has recently signed an agreement to purchase electricity from a solar installation company in Somerville, Massachusetts.
“We’re actively working to add more solar to campus rooftop and parking lots,” said Fischer. However, she noted that the University’s physical attributes, compared to other colleges, are not as lending toward the physical space necessary for mass renewable technology.
The team is also investigating the use of renewable fuels in the central heating plant, said Fischer. Of the University’s current progress in carbon reduction, Fischer said that since signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, the University has made great progress in 2016, reducing its carbon footprint for the first time.
During fiscal year 2016, the University used 10 percent less energy, reduced its carbon footprint by 8 percent and increased food waste composting from 2 percent to 10 percent, compared to fiscal year 2015, said Fischer.
Other advancements on behalf of the Sustainability Programs include the Commuter Green platform for closed community carpooling, initiated earlier this year, which aims to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles on the road. Further, the Sustainability Programs hope to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent by 2017 and 15 percent by 2020.
In regards to reaching 100 percent for the state of Massachusetts, Logan said, “I believe it’s going to happen, but it will take a lot of work.” He added that he could feasibly see it as reality by 2050, but not without a lot of work from the future generation of policy leaders and the demand from communities to support the required infrastructure.