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Univs should lead renewable energy transition

By Abigail Gardener

Section: News, Top Stories

March 17, 2017

Institutions of higher learning like Brandeis are the perfect candidates for making the complete transition to renewable energy, Rachel Gerber ’19, campus coordinator for Environment of Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, told students at an informational event on Wednesday, March 15.

“We’re here today to stress the urgent need for rapid transition to renewable energy and to highlight the role that colleges and universities specifically can play,” Gerber said.

A complete shift to clean energy is not only the best way for colleges and universities to reduce their carbon footprint, but it also makes the most sense, according to Gerber. Colleges are the most logical choice to lead the change because by nature, they are significant energy consumers, serving more than 20 million students, according to the press release.

Institutions of higher learning are also logistically the best places to support renewable energy initiatives. “Colleges and university campuses often have physical attributes that make hosting clean energy projects possible,” she said. These include large amounts of rooftop space, large parking lots, and marginal land for solar panels, wind turbines and similar initiatives.

Although Brandeis does not have marginal land and is therefore unable to accommodate wind turbines, the university is doing everything possible to put more solar panels on campus, according to Mary Fischer, manager of sustainability programs.

In addition to the optimal landscapes that colleges provide, college campuses can also save money by switching to clean energy, according to Michael Logan, director of operations for the company Sunlight Solar Energy. Brown University, for example, has a 50-kilowatt solar panel system installed, which saves about $13,000 annually off their utility bill, Logan said.

“There’s obviously the ability to protect the planet, but also at the same time, the reason this works is there’s the ability to protect your pocket. There’s huge financial incentives here for universities,” he said.

Despite these benefits, people are still hesitant to embrace renewable energy. Much of the apprehension people have about installing solar panels comes from an unwillingness to do things in a new way. People are “stuck in the old way of doing things and not opening their arms and embracing the future of what it’s going to look like … solar panels in your yard, solar panels on your roof, wind turbines possibly on the coast and in the marshes,” Logan said.

Because younger generations of students have experienced the effects of global warming and fossil fuels, they are very open to the possibilities available and the ability to transfer to renewable energies. “It’s really getting our brains wrapped around the look of the future, and abandoning the old look and the old aesthetics and just moving forward and evolving,” Logan said.

Colleges and universities are also prime targets to lead the push for 100-percent renewable energy because they are centers of innovation. Brandeis has already made progress toward using as much clean energy as possible. The university reduced its carbon footprint by eight percent in fiscal year 2016 and has a short-term goal of reducing carbon emissions by 10 percent by fiscal year 2018, according to Fischer. In addition, the university is actively working to add more solar panels to campus and is investigating the use of renewable fuel in the central heating plant.

“I think it starts with conversation, education … so many people have misconceptions of solar energy, the money it takes to invest, the financials behind it … a lot of people are just unaware,” Logan said. This unawareness can be solved through education and conversation about the issues, which happens often on college campuses, according to Logan.

Universities house “large populations of people with their minds expanded and ready to learn, ready to go out and lead the world. That’s why I think universities are going to lead the charge, they’re going to educate the new generation who’s going to go out and put these things in place, through bills, through physical labor and through actually putting up renewable energy sources themselves,” Logan said.

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