IDEA 2020 Takeaways


Though it was just over two months ago that BVH presented at the International District Energy Association conference focused on campus energy in Denver, it seems like a lifetime ago. With the world upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, the priorities for higher-ed institutions have focused on student safety, which has included spring semester closings, remote learning, and the still-in-question reopening of campuses in the fall. We hope you are staying safe during these times and hope you’ll find some positive distraction in this summary of the conference, and what it might mean in light of our new and still unfolding circumstances.

The big takeaway from the conference?  Everyone wants to be off carbon. Now. Some campuses have already set carbon reduction goals and are working through the engineering process, while others are trying to understand their options and determine the right climate action plan for them.

With so much uncertainty about the future of higher-ed in question right now, it’s hard to know whether reducing carbon footprint remains a priority, although we contend it should be, for what remains certain:  schools will be seeking ways to reduce operational costs in the face of lower revenues related to the economic fallout of the pandemic, and energy efficiency initiatives along with renewables can help them do that.

Fossil fuels may be cheap now, but prices will likely rise in the future. Meanwhile, renewable energy costs have been going down consistently for years. For campuses looking to burn fewer fossil fuels, the use of biofuels such as solid biomass, biodiesel, renewable fuel oil, renewable natural gas and biogas are being explored. Campuses are also considering solar photovoltaic options for electrification, such as on-campus ground-mounted, pole-mounted or building-mounted installation along with possible battery storage systems.  They are also looking into purchase agreements or joint ventures for solar energy generation. Combined heat and power plants have provided multiple mid-term carbon reduction benefits, along with the use of energy storage systems to control peak demand. 

To further offset carbon emissions, campuses are incorporating carbon sequestration measures where the carbon is captured, transported to a storage facility and used with other applications as a renewable source and energy credits such as Green Gas Certificates, Renewable Energy Credits, Clean Peak Credits and Carbon Offsets.

BVH has been helping college and university clients navigate carbon reduction strategies for the last several years, usually starting with a study of existing conditions and operations followed by a detailed plan outlining alternatives and associated costs that allow the campus to establish and achieve their climate action goals. Transition plans are key to a quality climate action plan, which incorporates real strategies matching each individual campus need. UMass Boston has transformed their campus in a first step with utilizing the adjacent bay for cooling, flexible hot water distribution and a new electrical system to allow future sustainable plug-in electrical and thermal production systems.

As colleges continue to navigate these unprecedented and challenging times, keep in mind that there may be concepts that can significantly reduce operating costs and position your campus for a fossil-free future. 

Thank you for reading – Stay safe!