Zero Net Direct Emissions: Three Scenarios at Oberlin College

NWF   |   October 27, 2005
With leadership from Dr. David Orr, Oberlin College worked with researchers, Richard Heede and Joel Swisher of the Rocky Mountain Institute to develop a plan for achieving net zero emissions by 2020. RMI researchers, who primarily evaluated Oberlin’s direct emission sources (see the Greenhouse Gas Protocol

for emissions standards and definitions), developed three alternative scenarios that would reduce emissions by 25 percent, 50 percent and 75 percent respectively, saving $500,000 to $1.3 million per year in energy costs. Based on an emissions inventory, the researchers concluded that more than ninety percent of Oberlin College’s direct emissions are from energy used in its buildings for steam and electricity.

Evaluating various costs and paybacks, Heede and Swisher concluded that the largest emissions reduction opportunity would be replacing the coal-fired boiler with a natural gas-fired system that would co-generate more electricity. Next in line would be using an efficient combustion turbine that would further increase co-generation, allowing the sale of surplus electricity. The third scenario, which was the only one that would not require the purchase of greenhouse gas offsets to achieve carbon neutrality, involves using advanced hydrogen fuel cell technology in the co-generation system. Oberlin’s plan is available on the website of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies whose Director, Dan Worth, is encouraging member groups to follow Oberlin’s suit in advocating for climate neutral policies at campuses and other institutions nationwide.

Although a handful of campuses, including Tufts University, Lewis and Clark College and Yale University, have established targets and timetables for reducing climate altering emissions and developed action plans to achieve them, Oberlin College is one of the only campuses to date to officially aim for zero net direct emissions by 2020. Others will be featured in future posts.