NEWS The Road from CalCAP: Can the University of California Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2025?



By Tamara Straus

Ten years ago, Scott Zim­mer­mann left an eight-​​year career as an oil indus­try engi­neer to attend law school at UC Berke­ley, retool, and try to save the planet. Al Gore’s “An Incon­ve­nient Truth” was just about to come out, and the nation was buzzing with new­found infor­ma­tion on the con­nec­tions between fos­sil fuel con­sump­tion and cli­mate change. Zim­mer­mann said he chose Berke­ley because “it was eas­ily the best place in the coun­try for peo­ple work­ing on inter­dis­ci­pli­nary cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion solu­tions, espe­cially in the energy space. Vir­tu­ally every depart­ment across cam­pus was mak­ing impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to cli­mate change research.”

Zim­mer­mann took some good early steps. First, he got Pro­fes­sor Daniel Kam­men to serve as his advi­sor. Kam­men had a triple appoint­ment at the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, the Energy & Resources Group, and the Nuclear Engi­neer­ing Depart­ment, and recently had been named Class of 1935 Dis­tin­guished Chair in Energy and co-​​director of the Berke­ley Insti­tute of the Envi­ron­ment. He was also about to win the Nobel Peace Prize as a con­tribut­ing lead to the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change.

Sec­ond, Zim­mer­mann met a Berke­ley attor­ney and activist by the name of Tom Kelly. In 2004, Kelly and his wife Jane had started Kyoto USA, a non­profit to get local juris­dic­tions to abide to the car­bon caps laid out in the Kyoto Pro­to­col. Kelly wanted to insti­tute the caps that the U.S. gov­ern­ment wouldn’t at UC Berke­ley, and accord­ing to Zim­mer­mann, “It fit really, really well within the uni­ver­sity and its politics.”

The state also was mov­ing where the fed­eral gov­ern­ment refused on cli­mate change pol­icy. Cal­i­for­nia Assem­bly Mem­ber Fran Pavley pre­sented AB32, which would soon become the 2006 Cal­i­for­nia Global Warm­ing Act, the first law of its kind in the coun­try. It would require Cal­i­for­nia to reduce its green­house gas emis­sions to 1990 lev­els by 2020.

Kam­men, Zim­mer­mann, Kelly, and two other grad­u­ate stu­dents from the Col­lege of Nat­ural Resources—Brooke Owyang and Eli Yewdall—decided that the UC Berke­ley should com­mit to the same reduc­tions and, if pos­si­ble, get ahead of them to prove the university’s lead­er­ship in envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. They drafted a let­ter to Chan­cel­lor Robert Bir­ge­neau, gath­ered sig­na­tures from 13 pro­fes­sors, lec­tur­ers, and deans as well as from Pro­fes­sor Cathy Koshland, vice provost for aca­d­e­mic plan­ning and facil­i­ties, and requested that the admin­is­tra­tion “for­mally endorse the Kyoto Pro­to­col and adopt its under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples.” The admin­is­tra­tion replied with a chal­lenge: to put together a fea­si­bil­ity plan.

Get­ting a uni­ver­sity to com­mit to and admin­is­trate this kind of goal is not just a really inter­est­ing polit­i­cal prob­lem,” remem­bers Zim­mer­mann. “It’s also a really inter­est­ing tech­ni­cal prob­lem.” The first tech­ni­cal prob­lem was quan­ti­fy­ing the actual on-​​campus emis­sions and under­stand­ing them in terms of trans­porta­tion, con­sump­tion, waste, elec­tric­ity, and so on. The sec­ond prob­lem was fig­ur­ing out how to reduce the emis­sions through tech­nol­ogy, behav­ior, and other methods.

To tackle these prob­lems, a student-​​faculty-​​staff group called the Cal Cli­mate Action Part­ner­ship (Cal­CAP) was formed. As usual, money was scarce. Zim­mer­mann and fel­low stu­dents Brooke Owang, Sasha Gen­net, and Sam Arons applied for a BigIdeas@Berkeley prize and won $5,000, enough to pay a stu­dent group to mea­sure the cam­pus’ car­bon foot­print. Stu­dent over­sight came from Kam­men, Civil and Envi­ron­men­tal Engi­neer­ing Pro­fes­sor Arpad Hor­vath, Energy & Resources Group Chair William Nazaroff, and 10 other fac­ulty, all of whom were doing cutting-​​edge work on emis­sions analy­sis and tech­nol­ogy. Fah­mida Ahmed, a recent grad­u­ate of UC Santa Barbara’s envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence and man­age­ment pro­gram, was hired to man­age the process. And for 18 months, momen­tum grew. There were large depart­ment and school head meet­ings, and many hours vol­un­teered from every cor­ner of the campus.

By the spring of 2007, Cal­CAP was done with its report­ing and placed a 117-​​page plan on the desk of Chan­cel­lor Robert J. Bir­ge­neau. He signed it, even though Nathan Brostrom, the vice chan­cel­lor of admin­is­tra­tion, didn’t know where about half the money was going to come from.

This was one of the most col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff I’ve ever seen or been involved in,” remem­bers Koshland. “It hap­pened because we had a multi-​​pronged strat­egy and an amaz­ing group of grad­u­ate stu­dents who led the charge.”

Koshland went on to chair the Cal­CAP steer­ing com­mit­tee, com­prised of a 35-​​member group and over­seen by the UC Berke­ley Office of Sus­tain­abil­ity & Energy. In its first few years, Cal­CAP pro­duced detailed reports on the path to meet car­bon reduc­tion goals and the mech­a­nisms to report the emis­sions, includ­ing the 2009 Sus­tain­abil­ity Plan and Cli­mate Action Plan. The efforts led to hun­dreds
 of projects across cam­pus on energy effi­ciency, trans­porta­tion, pro­cure­ment, water, and travel. And at each stage, the projects were indi­vid­u­ally eval­u­ated for fea­si­bil­ity and mea­sured for goal completion.

Kira Stoll, who became involved in Cal­CAP in 2006 as trans­porta­tion staff and is now the cam­pus’ sus­tain­abil­ity man­ager, said that one of the largest efforts has focused on build­ings, which account for 39 per­cent of C02 emis­sions in the United States. There were plenty of sur­prises. For exam­ple, Stoll and her col­leagues orig­i­nally assumed that there wouldn’t be much finan­cial pay­back from light­ing retro­fits. “But what we found through track­ing those projects,” says Stoll, “is that we were get­ting 60 per­cent faster bet­ter payback.”

In 2012, the Office of Sus­tain­abil­ity launched the Energy Man­age­ment Ini­tia­tive, includ­ing a cam­paign called My Power. My Power is a sim­ple behav­ioral pro­gram that has incen­tivized Cal depart­ments to reduce emis­sions by show­ing them detailed reports of how much energy they use—and then giv­ing them money back, if they go below spe­cific tar­gets. Stoll reports that the Energy Man­age­ment Ini­tia­tive has saved UC Berke­ley more than $2 mil­lion since it was launched.

Also part of the Energy Man­age­ment Ini­tia­tive is a plat­form called Energy Office, which aggre­gates 100 real-​​time energy dash­boards that change on 15-​​minute inter­vals. In 2012, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor Dun­can Call­away and his class noticed an inex­plic­a­ble bump up of energy use on Bar­rows Hall’s dash­board, and noti­fied the Energy Office. Stoll says her col­leagues used the dash­board soft­ware to sort through pos­si­ble causes of the increased use. They quickly found an equip­ment prob­lem, went to the build­ing, and resolved it. The avoided annual energy costs to Cal were up to $45,000.

By Novem­ber 2013, UC Berke­ley announced it had reduced its car­bon foot­print to 1990 lev­els. The CalCAP-​​initiated goal was met two years ahead of sched­ule and beat the state the dead­line by eight years. Because of its data man­age­ment, Cal­CAP knew exactly how and why goals were met. It gave three main rea­sons. First, through energy effi­ciency invest­ments, build­ing retro­fits, and sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion prac­tices, the uni­ver­sity saved 20 mil­lion kilo­watt hours of elec­tric­ity and 1 mil­lion gal­lons of fuel. Sec­ond, Pacific Gas & Elec­tric, which pro­vides the cam­pus elec­tric­ity and is required by state law to pro­vide 33 per­cent renew­able energy mix by 2020, helped out in reduc­ing emis­sions as it began to replace coal and oil with wind and sun energy. And third, and per­haps most instruc­tive, reduc­tions came through improved data and report­ing methods.

This shows that if you don’t mea­sure it, it’s incred­i­bly hard not only to act on it but to have a sub­stan­tive con­ver­sa­tion,” says Kam­men. “You really need to have tar­gets and goals. Set­ting them—doing the analy­sis to fig­ure them out, and then doing the mea­sure­ment work and adjusting—is what Cal­CAP has proved.”

Kam­men is speak­ing not just about UC Berkeley’s first set of car­bon emis­sions goals—but about the next set of goals, which UC Pres­i­dent Janet Napoli­tano announced in Novem­ber 2013. They demand that the entire Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tem com­mit to car­bon neu­tral­ity by 2025.

Matt St. Clair, who was part of the orig­i­nal Cal­CAP team and who in 2004 became the first sus­tain­abil­ity direc­tor for the Uni­ver­sity of California’s Office of the Pres­i­dent, believes the goals are reach­able but there are plenty of chal­lenges ahead. “Energy effi­ciency is hard work and com­plex and requires invest­ment,” says St. Clair. “We’ve done a lot of it, and we plan to do a lot more. We also don’t want to rely just on sup­ply side solu­tions, where we use as much energy as we want because we can directly pro­cure carbon-​​free sources of energy. That’s a big, ongo­ing challenge.”

Both St. Clair and Stoll say that UC Berke­ley reached its first car­bon reduc­tion goals in part by grab­bing at low-​​hanging fruit: cost-​​effective meth­ods that were as depen­dent on behav­ioral changes as much as on new tech­nolo­gies. What the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia needs now, they say, is finan­cial invest­ment and con­tin­ued ingenuity.

We really need to find a way to finance new renew­able energy ini­tia­tives,” says Stoll. “The tech­nol­ogy is avail­able, so it’s fea­si­ble if we can find the finances for it and do it in a 10-​​year time frame.”

Stoll men­tions that Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity is about to fin­ish a $438 mil­lion elec­tric heat recov­ery sys­tem to replace its cogen­er­a­tion plant. The new Stan­ford Energy Sys­tems Inno­va­tion project is expected to reduce car­bon emis­sions by 68 per­cent and save the uni­ver­sity an esti­mated $300 mil­lion over the next 35 years. Of course, these kinds of upfront costs are not some­thing the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia can con­tem­plate in the midst of the bud­get crisis.

Stoll and St. Clair say there are other tac­tics UC might employ, includ­ing pur­chas­ing more solar and wind power from energy whole­salers and devel­op­ing a bio­methane sub­sti­tute for nat­ural gas.

What’s excit­ing about a system-​​wide car­bon neu­tral­ity pol­icy and office of sus­tain­abil­ity,” says St. Clair, “is that each cam­pus has its own strengths that the oth­ers can learn from.”

St. Clair notes that Berke­ley was the first to do a cli­mate action plan, which his office used to help the other nine cam­puses develop their own plans. Whereas, UC Santa Bar­bara pio­neered green build­ing efforts with the country’s first Plat­inum LEED cer­ti­fied build­ing, and UC Irvine devel­oped a smart lab­o­ra­tory pro­gram, through which it has retro­fit­ted more than a dozen lab­o­ra­tory build­ings and cut energy con­sump­tion in those build­ings by on aver­age 60 per­cent, becom­ing a national and inter­na­tional model.

This year, Costa Rica became the first nation to use only clean energy. The country’s state util­ity com­pany announced in late March that it went the first 75 days of 2015 with­out using fos­sil fuels like coal or oil for elec­tric­ity, and expects to rely on renew­able energy for more than 95 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity for the remain­der of the year.

Can the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia one-​​up this hydropower-​​reliant coun­try and achieve car­bon neu­tral­ity by 2025? For many involved, it’s the ulti­mate hot potato ques­tion. Daniel Kam­men, how­ever, says the answer is “unam­bigu­ously yes.”

It sounds like a rev­o­lu­tion­ary num­ber to make the energy sys­tem car­bon free by 2025,” says Kam­men. “But if the UC sys­tem can really inno­vate and use its phys­i­cal cam­puses as liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries, I think it’s absolutely doable. What it will take is a scale-​​up in efficiency—solar, wind, bio­mass, geothermal—that we have been talk­ing about for a while. Ten years is an incred­i­bly tight timetable. It makes you gasp a lit­tle. But we’ve seen these tran­si­tions hap­pen on this scale already.”

Scott Zim­mer­mann, Kammen’s for­mer stu­dent who is now an energy lawyer at the San Fran­cisco firm of Wil­son Son­sini Goodrich & Rosati, argues that get­ting to car­bon neu­tral­ity is a big­ger step. “It’s not some­thing you can nec­es­sar­ily do while sav­ing money,” he says. “The ear­lier steps at UC Berke­ley were eas­ier because they enabled depart­ments to save money. Now, if there’s extra money, the ques­tion is: Do you put the money into car­bon reduc­ing facil­i­ties or hire another pro­fes­sor? Those deci­sions are harder to make.”

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