Energy & Emissions

Students Help Expand WashU Solar, Assess Greenhouse Gas Emissions

This semester, the student associates on the Renewable Energy team has been working on a variety of projects to increase solar energy generation across Washington University’s campuses, as well as to evaluate methods and tools for better accounting for our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

These solar energy projects have included finalizing a Request For Proposals (RFP) for up to 1 Megawatt of new solar projects on the Danforth, Medical, and North Campuses, as well as modeling building energy usage and solar energy production data, expanding solar-ready design guidelines to encompass garage-top solar options, building financial models for additional campus sites to host solar arrays, designing preliminary solar arrays for some of the new buildings on the East End of campus, and working to relocate the solar carport currently near Brauer Hall on campus.

GHG accounting is a way for universities to measure their emissions, from the operational to supply chain levels. This allows standard ways for institutions and municipalities to track emissions, progress towards goals, and set future goals in expanding renewable energy generation and carbon emissions reductions. For Washington University, this is important for us to identify areas for improvement across our supply chain to ensure that it is the the most economically and environmentally friendly choice for our University. There are 3 scopes for emissions: Scope 1 emissions cover on-campus natural gas use and other direct combustion associated with the school, such as the Circulator; Scope 2 covers emissions related to electricity, steam, or hot water that the university purchases from another entity such as the electrical utility; and Scope 3 emissions cover electricity transmission and distribution losses, supply chain emissions, and methane leakage due to natural gas extraction and transportation. If an institution or municipality has a robust and accurate emissions report, a consumer can more easily analyze the organization’s sustainable operations.

Washington University’s current GHG reduction goal focuses on reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions on our Danforth and Medical campus back to their 1990 levels (a reduction of 51,300 MT of CO2-equivalent due to on-site efficiency measures) by the year 2020. Due to the importance and complexity of Scope 3 emissions, the University established the goal of developing a robust Scope 3 inventory by the end of 2018. A key part of achieving GHG emissions reduction is accurate and regular emissions tracking.

Another strategy for achieving our 2020 goal is the expansion of renewable energy generation across our campuses. While Washington University currently has ~600 kW of solar energy generating capacity across its campuses (enough to power 57 average US homes), we continue to explore opportunities to expand this capacity to further reduce our carbon footprint, pursuant to the goals outlined in our Strategic Plan for Sustainable Operations. The team has been working to update financial models for a few potential 25 kw projects that were recently awarded solar rebates. In addition to these sites, the University has identified a number of other buildings which would be good sites for solar arrays, and as such, the team has developed a Request for Proposals from bidders in order to begin developing these projects as well. This development process has included scoping exactly what our goals are from each of these projects, which might include cheaper energy, the use of cutting-edge technologies, experiential learning opportunities, and a decrease in campus carbon emissions. By providing clear guidance to bidders, we hope to reduce uncertainty that can lead to higher bids and allow for a more streamlined, successful process.

Last semester, the team developed solar-ready design guidelines for campus buildings. With the guidelines, new campus buildings can be built to accommodate solar from the beginning, or to host solar arrays at a later date while incurring much fewer expenses to do so. This semester, the team has been working to expand these guidelines to incorporate design considerations for parking garages and parking lots which would also host solar parking canopies. Because these structures require much more advanced engineering design, especially in the case of parking garages, it is more cost effective to design these structures to accommodate solar from the beginning. Parking structures often take up a significant amount of surface area, making them ideal candidates for large solar arrays, further decreasing the carbon intensity of our campus electricity.

However, it is not just the expansion of solar implementation that this team is working on. The team also worked to gain a better understanding of what solar projects are already in place, by developing a comprehensive technical inventory of the solar installations on all university-owned properties.  This solar inventory will be very helpful when projects are proposed that may involve altering or moving existing solar installations. For example, the large construction project taking place on the east end of the Danforth Campus will include the area that is currently home to the solar powered electric vehicle charging station in front of Brauer Hall. In anticipation of the upcoming East End construction project, the team is developing a relocation plan for the EV charging station and its associated solar array to a different location on the Danforth Campus where it will continue to provide commuters with an easy way to recharge electric vehicles.

This article was written by our Renewable Energy Student Associates Taylor Blevin, Sean Fallon and Channing Hunter.