Transitioning SUNY ESF to a low-carbon energy campus
University campuses are small-scale cities managing their own infrastructure and operations. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings and utility systems has been a focal point for many years as campuses implement actions to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) is one of the universities that recognize climate change as an important trend that needs to be reversed.
In the face of current pressures such as energy and GHG reduction mandates from New York State, aging assets, and decreasing revenues, SUNY ESF is charting near-term actions and a long-term decision-making framework to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and GHG emissions through a Clean Energy Master Plan.
Setting the foundation of SUNY ESF’s decarbonizationRamboll has been a partner to SUNY ESF through the development of the Clean Energy Master Plan, participating in critical discussions of the key mandates and drivers, offering strategic advice of clean energy options, and setting the foundation of the most economically viable low-carbon technologies and operational strategies to reduce fossil fuel dependency, increase electrification, and maintain resiliency and reliability.
Shifting from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies
The master plan concentrated on five strategic areas: energy efficiency, resiliency, renewable energy, stewardship, and engagement.
A major focus area was assessing measures falling under the resiliency category, which included low-carbon technologies that would contribute to approximately 40% of the total GHG emissions reduction. Here, it was very important to understand how the campus produces and distributes heat as 60% of its annual fuel use is from natural gas and purchased steam.
To reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, the campus would, in a series of phases, convert its current steam system to a low-temperature hot water system. The conversion would significantly increase energy efficiency while the distribution losses would decrease by 20%.
"Changing our current heating system which is a steam-based system over to a hot water system was not something we have thought about or envisioned when we started this project. As we work through the process and modeling, the results are powerful and show that there is an impact on our fossil fuel consumption and carbon footprint”
– Tim Volk, Senior Research Associate, SUNY ESF
Over time, the project phases would focus on the gradual installation of low-carbon technologies such as heat pumps, thermal energy storage, increased use of biomass, and potentially a new combined heat and power (CHP) plant.
Heat pumps are excellent low-carbon technologies that would enable SUNY ESF to transfer energy from a lower temperature level such as ground water or ambient air and deliver it to the district heating network.
Thermal energy storage will help SUNY ESF balance fluctuating electricity from renewable sources. Through this technology application, heat can be produced at night when electricity prices are lower and be used during the day when electricity prices are higher.
Collaboration and stakeholder engagement were important project aspects so that our work was aligned with the Facility Master Plan that was being developed simultaneously. Both master planning documents consider campus changes over the next ten years and the documents need to complement each other towards the ultimate goals of improving energy efficiency, building infrastructure renewal, and fulfilling New York State’s mandates.