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Jul 12, 2012

Imagine a University

 

Imagine a UniversityJust as Rocky Mountain Institute Chief Scientist Amory Lovins has asked us over the years to “Imagine a World”, he has now charged ~22 public and private universities and colleges in the State of North Carolina to “Imagine a University,” a small and complex world in its own right.

This week in Boone, North Carolina, participants at the Appalachian Energy Summit began thinking about how they can Reinvent Fire on their campus and throughout the state.

Reinventing Fire, RMI’s vision and roadmap to a 2050 U.S. economy powered by efficiency and renewables, is just as compelling for campus leaders as it is for business leaders. College campuses provide a great test environment to apply energy-saving solutions across the energy-using facets of society. Campuses have residential and commercial buildings, hospitals, recreation areas, transportation fleets, industrial facilities, and—in some cases—on-site electricity generation. People live, work, play, eat, and sleep on campuses. Campus buildings also tend to be fairly energy intensive, especially the hospitals and laboratories that you see at large research universities.

According to Lovins, the first step in developing a sustainable campus energy plan is to fundamentally ask how they could offer students and faculty better value, using less energy. Specially, he called on summit participants to “imagine a university”

  • That makes students, employees, and community members happier and healthier
  • Where campuses are used as part of the education curriculum, and smart, climate-responsive buildings teach students about integrative design and new technologies
  • Where facilities managers are seen not as overhead to be minimized but as profit centers to be maximized

Participants expanded on this vision throughout the day. They imagined universities that:

  • Have energy courses as part of the general education requirements
  • Can participate in purchase power agreements with energy developers and are able to negotiate with utilities
  • Have non-siloed departments that work together to create and implement an energy plan and strategy
  • Have a common clean energy plan for all of the campuses in the state
  • Have aggressive metering and measuring for each building on campus
  • Reward students and staff for not having cars on campus
  • Have coordinated land use and transportation planning with local municipalities
  • Successfully train students to be the nation’s next energy leaders
  • Have revolving loan funds to reinvest energy savings back into the school

Universities are huge economic drivers in every state and the solutions discussed at the summit have implications far beyond the campuses themselves. In North Carolina, for example, the 17 campuses that make up the public university system spend $226 million per year on energy—just about $1000 per student per year. Making efficiency improvements on campus buildings and vehicle fleets not only helps hedge against rising tuition costs, can yield important savings for the cash-strapped taxpayers of the state of North Carolina.

That said, while $226 million dollars is a big chunk of change, it is only a drop in the bucket compared to the UNC system’s overall annual spending. In fact, it’s only 2.8 percent of the total annual expenditures of the system. By one report, the state schools spend more money on software for faculty and students.

But there is value beyond the cost savings for universities. Beyond the obvious business reasons, universities with comprehensive strategies can benefit from better student recruitment and retention, cohesive and comprehensive curricula, well-trained, educated staff; beneficial partnerships with other schools, and fruitful partnerships with private organizations, just to name a few.

Universities are already creating the next generation of energy thinkers and workers, so the UNC system’s effort to coordinate across the state is a huge step forward. As a native to North Carolina and alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill, I am excited by the potential for a system-wide sustainability plan to lead cost savings at the campus level, and larger—arguably more beneficial—non-economic benefits for the state.

Highlighted Resources


U of M

 
Energy Confessions of an Undergrad

 


App State



Tips for Campus Sustainability


Imagine a World



Imagine a World (Video)

Join the Discussion


Showing 1-1 of 1 comments

July 17, 2012

This is Fantastic. There is so much that can be done to make these campuses much more energy efficient. By doing so all these students will be learning how they will be able to make a difference out in their communities as well.
Increasing Energy Efficiency starts at the driveway entering each of these locations and continues through each and every building and facility.
It takes many eyes and many minds to realize all these little energy things that make these facilities function.
Natural Gas, Electricity and Water, how efficiently can these three essentials be consumed? How much of these is used efficiently and how much is being wasted? If lights and computers are left on when not necessary, that wasted energy can be seen, recognized and corrected.
How much hot natural gas is being blown into the atmosphere, is something that can't be seen, but it can be measured and corrected. That wasted energy can be recovered and utilized, making the use of this energy over 90% efficient.
How much water is being wasted. The distance from usable water to waste is about 16". Facet to drain. If people realize the costs associated with treating all this water so it comes out of the facet, as per health standards, maybe taps would not be left on for quite so long?
Lots to think about. Success.

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