Cornell’s successful transition to carbon neutrality by 2035 will depend on decreasing campus power consumption and establishing innovative sources of clean energy, according to panelists at a forum hosted by the Senior Leaders Climate Action group.
The panel — which was led by co-chairs Prof. Lance Collins, mechanical and aerospace engineering and dean of engineering, and KyuJung Whang, vice president for infrastructure, properties and planning — discussed realistic ways to achieve campus carbon neutrality. Other panelists included professors and students involved in sustainability at Cornell.
Collins and Whang co-wrote a report — released early last month — at the request of Provost Michael Kotlikoff, analyzing viable options for the Ithaca campus to become carbon neutral by 2035.
This report is different from its predecessors in that it contains an updated financial analysis and identifies new methods for valuing projects, according to Collins.
“There has been a longstanding commitment to achieving this [report],” he said. “It is considered to be one of the important goals for our campus because it allows us to show leadership and a pathway forward — not only for Cornell, but for other places on the planet — to achieve carbon neutrality.”
Collins described both the difficulties and potenital benefits of achieving carbon neutrality, saying Cornell’s primary challenge is its need to “heat and power a campus that is power hungry because we are a ‘research one’ institution.”
Whang also stressed the need to decrease Cornell’s use of energy, in addition to finding clean ways to obtain it.
“Any time you talk about neutrality, you not only have to consider the supply side, but also the demand side,” he said. “We have to lower our demand as much as possible on campus so that our goal becomes a lot easier to achieve.”
As an example of one such initiative, Whang proposed implementing 150 charging stations on campus to increase the area’s capacity to serve electric vehicles.
Another initiative is Cornell’s Earth Source Heat project, which aims to sustainably heat campus with thermal energy from the Earth, according to the University’s Sustainable Campus website.
“It fits the mission of the institution in that it will be a combination of the research arm of the University with the facilities arm of the University, coming together to implement a spectacular project that we believe could be demonstrating a new industry,” Collins said.
Sarah Brylinsky, director of the campus sustainability office, added that a key part of the proposal is increasing climate literacy on campus.
“Every student, every member of the Cornell community, should have a fundamental understanding why we are pursuing climate neutrality and the importance and urgency of climate change,” she said. “Those are things that we already invest in as a campus, so this report builds on an existing plan of action.”