In a virtual kickoff meeting, UC Santa Barbara’s Decarbonization Study Project Committee launched its official campus Clean Energy Master Plan.
The initiative is a joint effort of both UCSB officials and Introba, a third-party, worldwide engineering consulting firm who will be lending support to the technical side of decarbonization. The committee is co-led by Renée Bahl and Susannah Scott, with representatives from Introba serving as project managers.
Decarbonization is nothing new for the UC system. In 2013, the UC system announced a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2025, but this new initiative represents a shift to a different goal: 90% decarbonization by 2045. The key change in the new plan is eliminating a majority of the carbon offsets that the previous plan relied on to reach its goal.
The meeting, on Oct. 25, provided a summary of where UCSB currently stands with regard to its goals. The university has already managed to reduce its carbon footprint by about two-thirds, and UCSB now generates 15% of electricity on-site through renewable means, primarily solar panels.
Purchased electricity has come from carbon-free sources since 2020. The project team believes UCSB has a few key advantages compared to the other UCs when it comes to decarbonizing. The campus has a newer power grid, rebuilt less than 20 years ago, and a relatively flat campus geography.
Additionally, even now, UCSB is the only UC with no cogeneration, meaning there is no onsite power plant. Many climate plans break down total emissions into three scopes, numbered 1-3.
Scope 1 includes things like heating and cooling of buildings, water heating and many other activities often powered by natural gas. Scope 2 emissions are from purchased electricity, meaning it is not generated on-site, but is created as a result of an organization’s activity. Scope 3 is any other emissions not covered by Scopes 1 and 2.
The biggest challenge that UCSB faces is Scope 1. However, the school is working with Introba to develop innovative ways of achieving these things while still reducing emissions.
One such example is “thermal storage,” which would use the same energy that makes hot water for showers to cool buildings simultaneously, thereby reducing overall energy requirements.
Both the Introba and UCSB representatives reiterated that the “the University of California system is a recognized leader in equity-centered climate action planning,” and intends to make sure that the plan moves forward in an equity-centered framework.
The time from now until June 2024 will primarily be a period for more studies and public comment, with any actual construction commencing after that period.
The public input and comment period will have a variety of ways for stakeholders and community members to get involved, and the committee emphasized their commitment to hearing input from the public.
While exact dates have not yet been announced, there will be town halls held throughout the comment period open to any students or community members, as well as smaller meetings with key stakeholders.
For students or community members looking to send in feedback at any point, the committee has set up an email account, email@example.com, which will be monitored for open feedback throughout the comment period.
They encourage any individual with ideas, suggestions or concerns to reach out through the email, as well as attend public comment sessions. A final important subject addressed in the meeting was the importance of equity when determining the process of decarbonization at UCSB.
Although an important step for protecting the planet, both Introba and the project committee understand that these changes have far-reaching implications for the university and surrounding communities. The study’s team reaffirmed their commitment and understanding of the importance of community involvement in addressing any such concerns.
The Clean Energy Master Plan has 5 major considerations:
- Produce a strategy for 90% or greater reduction in Scope 1 emissions in campus energy systems from a 2019 baseline
- Provide high-level estimates of total capital and operational costs as well as potential savings
- Identify environmental justice and equity considerations related to transition
- Document knowledge gaps and necessary subsequent studies to create a net-zero campus
- Identify climate resiliency planning considerations
A version of this article appeared on p. 11 of the Nov. 16, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.