Linking Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies

While master plans should create strategies for adapting to the effects of climate change, they are also central to implementing the actions to reduce emissions as well as to finding ways to connect both adaptation and mitigation. For example, an increased reliance on distributed power or on-site generation from combined heat and power (see chapter 6), renewable energy, or alternative fuels may decrease heat-trapping gas emissions and make the university less vulnerable to power outages or storm events. Likewise, attention to energy efficiency can help to reduce the impact of rising costs.

Distributed generation systems, particularly those that rely on fuel cells, can be extremely efficient and can result in substantial reduction of heat-trapping gas emissions associated with powering the university. Cogeneration systems, in which both heat and electricity are generated by the same plant, may also be an excellent choice for many campuses. Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, is one institution that made an early investment in cogeneration and has benefited financially over the life cycle of the investment. A downside of distributed generation that needs to be taken into consideration in planning relates to backup power. If for any reason the on-site campus generation system is shutdown, for either routine maintenance or for equipment failure, purchasing grid power during shutdown may be extremely costly. This is one of several factors that must be taken into account in evaluating on-site generation systems.

Emergency Planning Planning for emergencies, especially those that may result in power outages, should be factored into the full cost of energy systems. Too often generators for backup power are tacked onto projects without any systematic thinking about their capacity to function in different types of emergencies.

An incident affecting our main campus in Medford helped clarify these issues for us. In the summer of 2002, a utility transmission line and its backup failed. The campus was without grid-connected power for two weeks. Diesel generators with a total capacity of 5 megawatts were brought in from all over the Northeast—from as far away as Maryland— and the campus community was urged to conserve as much as possible. Facilities staff worked day and night to connect the generators into the power feeds and to distribute the limited power appropriately throughout the campus.

Among the lessons we learned was how vulnerable we are when the power fails. The outage occurred during a slow time of year, when most students were not on campus, academic buildings and research facilities were not fully occupied, and demands for electricity and HVAC were not at a maximum. Had the outage occurred during the semester or in a winter storm, our ability to conserve would have been reduced and generators might have been less available and would therefore have been capable of addressing a smaller portion of demand. The cost of the outage was extremely high and although some of the direct dollars were borne by the utility, the staff time and lost productivity were not compensated. Though unrelated to climate change in any way, the power outage helped us realize the need to think differently about the vulnerability that can be associated with climate change.

The incident taught us that the definition of emergency power depends on the circumstances. For example, during a one- or two-hour power outage, emergency power is sufficient if it serves life safety needs. However, outages that have longer duration increase the sphere of those whose needs are critical. For instance, climate control in laboratories where long-term research is being carried out can become critical to the faculty and their departments. Even computer use can be critical if a faculty member is working on a proposal due that day and the only copy of the document resides on a desktop computer. Communications, voice mail, telephone service, and copy machines become critical for some departments when the duration of a power outage lasts more than a day.

The relationship between emergency energy planning and climate change has several dimensions that warrant consideration:

1. As climate change affects local weather events and storms become more powerful or frequent, interruptions to service may be more frequent. If this means that power outages will last for longer periods, the suitability of the campus emergency power system needs to be examined to determine whether critical needs can be met under different scenarios.

2. The cost of an emergency such as a power outage can be enormous. These costs can change the financial equation for evaluating different energy systems. For example, distributed energy systems using fuel cells, cogeneration, and other on-site generation systems generally have a higher first cost than grid-connected systems. However, in evaluating the vulnerability of the grid system, college or university planners may feel that the increased reliability of on-site generation compensates for the higher first cost.

3. Some solutions, particularly on-site cogeneration, can increase reliability and decrease emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Other dimensions of emergency planning are worth considering as well. They include emergency communications within the campus and outside of the campus, transportation home, temporary housing, evacuations, and emergency medical access.

Continue reading here: The Master Plan Can Link Buildings with the University Mission A

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