Replacing Natural Gas to Help Decarbonize UC

February 28, 2018

Universities across the United States have set ambitious goals to shrink their carbon footprints, including the University of California, which launched its Carbon Neutrality Initiative in 2013, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2025. But amid broad support for climate action within the UC system, a big question looms: how to actually hit that target.

Now, a 27-member team uniquely comprised of researchers, facilities managers, sustainability officers and students from across the UC campuses has released a report that helps answer this important “how” question. They present a feasible strategy to achieve a measure that would be especially game changing: replacing natural gas with climate-friendlier options.

“Some decarbonization pathways are surprisingly economical,” said the report’s lead author Alan Meier, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (a US Department of Energy lab managed by the University of California) and adjunct professor at UC Davis.

Like the state of California, UC campuses rely on highly efficient power plants that burn natural gas. Since natural gas accounts for two-thirds of the greenhouse gases emitted by all UC operations, phasing it out will be critical for a carbon-neutral future.

The report’s three-step plan for weaning off natural gas entails aggressively increasing energy efficiency across all ten campuses and five medical centers; replacing natural gas with biogas in the short term; and in the long run, electrifying all end uses of energy and switching to only renewable sources.

Amplifying the report’s message is a paper published February 27th in Nature Climate Change, written by the report team, which urges the world to look to local institutions, such as the UC, for leadership in meeting carbon-reduction commitments established by the 2015 Paris Agreement. The team’s recommendations are widely applicable in the United States, given that the nation’s energy system is increasingly dependent on natural gas and will ultimately face similar challenges as it decarbonizes.



Julie Chao