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

May 1, 2015

To tackle problems related to quantifying and reducing campus emissions, a student-faculty-staff group called the Cal Climate Action Partnership (CalCAP) was formed in 2006. 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.

In 2012, the Office of Sustainability launched the Energy Management Initiative, including a campaign called myPower. MyPower 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. Sustainability Manager Kira 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. 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. 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. Further reductions came through improved data and reporting methods.

In November 2013, UC Berkeley’s first carbon emissions goals were supplemented by UC President Janet Napolitano's goal to have the entire University of California system achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. In order to meet this new target, the previous strategy of switching to cost-effective new technology and behavioral changes needs to be supplemented by financial investment in new renewable energy initiatives. Approaches under consideration include purchasing more solar and wind power from energy wholesalers and developing a biomethane substitute for natural gas.

Read the full article by Tamara Straus for the Blum Center for Developing Economies here.