Rooftop photovoltaic array

UC Santa Cruz Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality by 2025

UC Santa Cruz has historically demonstrated strong commitment to environmental concerns through a broad array of measures, ranging from facilities management to teaching curricula. These initiatives were advanced during early 2016 when campus sustainability staff led the development of a Climate and Energy Strategy (CES), a roadmap intended to guide the campus towards carbon neutrality by 2025, to meet the goal outlined by UC president Janet Napolitano in 2013.

This road-mapping effort developed a custom scenario analysis tool to inform decisions that will help meet 2025 carbon neutrality goals in the most cost effective manner.”

The CES project serves several compliance needs, such as updating the campus’s 2008 Strategic Energy Plan and 2011 Climate Action Plan, and mitigating potential impacts of cap-and-trade regulation that might apply to future campus growth. A noteworthy innovation was the development of a custom-built techno-economic scenario analysis tool that was used to compare economic and carbon impacts of numerous alternatives, and to define an optimized set of measures. Using this tool the project team was able to make more informed decisions, based on useful metrics such as net present value, savings-to-investment ratio, and the cost per million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) saved. The tool was created using Excel so that it could be easily shared and adapted by other campuses.

Using scenario software tool

Climate Action Manager Chrissy Thomure demonstrates the scenario analysis software developed by the project team to inform decision making.

Led by the climate action manager and the campus energy manager, and with support from three consultants, the CES team used a highly collaborative process, engaging staff, students and faculty &emdash; over 125 participants in all. The work involved ongoing collaborations with over 20 building managers, 35 principal investigators and lab technicians, and numerous facilities and maintenance staff.

As many participants were not familiar with the technical language of climate mitigation, the team provided educational opportunities throughout the process, including workshops with key stakeholders at critical milestones. The team used these events to explain concepts regarding emissions, economics, technologies and impacts. To further disseminate information and gain support from decision makers, the team created clear and highly visual communications. Finally, a Living Lab was created to support student pursuits of research on climate change mitigation, technology development, and experiential learning.

Engineering building at UCSC

Campus facilities are important targets of the carbon reducion roadmap.

The project’s key activities included energy audits of the 50 most energy intensive buildings, and an audit of campus-wide utilities, including hot and chilled water loops and the cogeneration plant. The team also investigated the feasibility of renewable energy options, comparing alternatives such as photovoltaic, solar thermal, fuel cells and hybrid photovoltaic-thermal systems. This exhaustive process ultimately outlined hundreds of potential carbon reduction measures, including 350 building energy efficiency measures, 12 new renewable energy projects, and 6 district energy measures.

The team then analyzed over 50 scenarios using the new analysis tool. Although the final document was not complete at the time of this writing, preliminary results provide insights on how to meet the university’s 2025 goals in the most cost-effective manner. For example, carbon neutrality may best be reached through onsite energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and these strategies also improve net-present-value (NPV) compared to business-as-usual scenarios. The carbon neutrality goals will also be effectively advanced through adoption of buildings that meet or approach zero-net energy. Installing four megawatts of photovoltaics will initially produce the highest NPV, but this may diminish over time as buildings and district utilities become more efficient. The final report, expected to be released in fall of 2016, will show the benefits of early and proactive policy changes to achieve the dual goals of cost-effective carbon neutrality and cap-and-trade compliance.

The project leaders see the CES findings as a compelling story that may help other campuses gain support for effective and rapid climate action. They plan to share with other schools the resources developed during the course of the project, including training materials and documentation. They also plan to update and advance the CES and the scenario analysis tool as market conditions, campus facilities, and technologies evolve.

Images courtesy of UCSC.

Share this Case Study
Award Category
Key Strategies
  • Broad collaborative process with 125 participants and reaching 600 people
  • Custom techno-economic analysis tool to evaluate costs and emission impacts of projects, policies, and procurements
  • Audits of 50 energy intensive buildings, totaling over 2.5M ft2
  • District systems audit for optimization of the hot/chilled water loops, and cogeneration plant
  • Evaluation of photovoltaic, solar thermal, fuel cells and hybrid photovoltaic-thermal alternatives
  • Climate and Energy Strategy plan to inform policy and compliance with climate regulations
Best Scenario Estimated Energy and CO2 Savings Through 2025
Completion Date
Project Team