This semester, I took my first ever graduate class at Rutgers University, in pursuit of a Master's Degree in Energy Systems Engineering. The class was an industrial engineering class about linear optimization. For our final project, we had to create our own custom optimization model to solve a realistic, "real world" problem.
I decided to focus my project on greenhouse gas emissions at Rutgers University. Despite Rutgers being the eighth-oldest college in the United States and the largest institution of higher education in New Jersey, it does not have any type of formal energy or sustainability master plan. I personally find this to be unacceptable, considering the University has a $1.476 billion endowment and markets itself as being a leader in research and education for undergraduate and graduate students.
In September 2019, the Rutgers President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience was formed by President Barchi in response to mounting student, staff, and stakeholder pressure for the school to take more responsibility for its overall environmental impact. The purpose of the Task Force is “to develop Rutgers’ strategies for contributing to achieving global net-zero carbon dioxide emissions and for enhancing the capacity of the university and the State of New Jersey to manage the risks of a changing climate.”
The Task Force released a “Pre-Planning Report" in January 2020 and an “Interim Report” in May 2020 to summarize the team’s work towards the eventual and final Climate Action Plan, which is slated to be released in mid-2021. The Climate Action Plan will “identify an ambitious, yet achievable and feasible timeframe and pathway for achieving carbon neutrality” and will take place in “an active policy environment that includes a statewide commitment to achieve 100% carbon-free energy by 2050”.
Until the Climate Action Plan is finalized, no formal timeline for achieving carbon neutrality at Rutgers exists. There is also no indication of how much capital the University is willing to invest to achieve the carbon neutrality goal. However, the Pre-Planning Report and Interim Report, as well as Climate Action Plans and creative ideas from other universities offer a variety of strategies that can be put forth to lower overall emissions and get Rutgers closer to its carbon neutrality goal.
In my report, I use linear optimization techniques to model different pathways for reduced carbon emissions at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus. These models will provide a roadmap into the investment required by the university to meet various emissions reduction limits, which can help inform the Task Force on the best strategies to pursue when it comes to finances, emissions reductions, and timelines.
My model is imperfect but valuable as it provides high-level signaling which projects the President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience should pursue. Behavior change campaigns, which are low-cost and non-technical to implement, should be started immediately. The university should also look into expanding its solar PV capacity and should invest in tried-and-true energy efficiency ventures such as retrocommissioning and building automation upgrades. Finally, the university should consider carbon offsets as a quick-fix for reducing net emissions while they continue to develop their long-term energy and sustainability master plan.
The model is limited because it only focuses on a one-year time period. This model could be duplicated and the constraints could be edited to model a multi-year, phased plan for emissions reduction. This would give more accurate results for a long-term energy master plan.
A lot of assumptions were used in this model, especially when it comes to the constraints modeled for the various capital upgrade and behavior change campaigns. However, if the President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience altered this model to include more accurate cost and savings data, it could serve as an extremely effective tool for creating a successful energy and sustainability master plan for the next 30 years at Rutgers University.
See my optimization model, written report, and powerpoint presentation summarizing the project by clicking the links shown or visiting this folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/189keElrhXAOva4x4jddCZY9VR-NQG9sf
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