The New Jersey Public Interest Group (NJPIRG) recently published a new report titled “Renewable Energy 100: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus,” detailing how colleges like Rutgers can lead the way by running on 100 percent renewable energy.
The report was published jointly with Environment New Jersey, a nonprofit group that campaigns for environmental issues and renewable energy initiatives.
April Nicklaus, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore and the chair of the Rutgers—New Brunswick chapter of NJPIRG, said the report focuses on how colleges are uniquely positioned to lead the way to 100 percent renewable energy consumption.
“It is very much in line with the mission of colleges and universities to do this,” Nicklaus said. “Part of the mission of the University is to drive innovation and new solutions. All the resources we have are perfect for taking theoretical research and putting it in place. Because we are such a major research university, having Rutgers take the step towards 100 percent renewable would send a big signal to the rest of the state and to other universities in the country.”
Nicklaus said NJPIRG is working with the administration of the University to sign on to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).
The ACUPCC is an agreement among colleges and universities all over the country to become carbon-neutral in their energy consumption by the year 2050, with a benchmark goal of transitioning to completely renewable sources for electricity by 2030.
According to the ACUPCC's website, more than 700 colleges and universities from all 50 states and the Washington, D.C. have already signed the agreement.
“This is not a fringe effort,” Nicklaus said. “For places that haven't already made this commitment, it's a shocking thing to think about. But when you put it in the larger context, some cities like Burlington, Vermont and Georgetown, Texas are already 100 percent there, and hundreds more have made the commitment and are actively working through their climate action plan to get there by their deadline. The reason this seems shocking or unfeasible is that we haven't done it yet.”
Nicklaus said there is a misconception that renewable energy sources are not economically feasible. According to the report, the growth of the solar energy industry has surpassed predictions made by the Department of Energy, the Sierra Club and Green Peace.
There are also ways to mitigate the upfront costs of solar panels. Nicklaus said universities, as well as homes and businesses, may use a marketplace based strategy to transition gradually to renewable energy sources. Producers of renewable energy will sell credits to customers who want to get at least some of their electricity from renewable sources.
As more customers buy credits from producers of solar power, the producers will expand production to keep up with demand.
States use this strategy as well. Each state has a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which mandates what percentage of the state's energy consumption must come from renewable sources. To satisfy the mandates of the RPS, a state's government may buy credits from producers of renewable energy. This promotes the growth of renewable energy production without forcing states to quickly make large investments, she said.
Rutgers students likely will have noticed the solar panels on Livingston campus. According to NJPIRG's report, the use of solar power in the United States has tripled in the past two years.
“If we wanna get there by 2050, we need to start now in order to have a realistic timeline,” Nicklaus said. “One of the things that NJPIRG does in the structuring of our campaigns is we make sure that whatever goals we have ... are realistic goals. We're not gonna push for something that's impossible. 2050 is pretty far off into the future in terms of what most students are concerned about, but thinking in terms of the administration and adapting policies and building infrastructure, this work needs to start now.”
NJPIRG is currently working with the University to design a realistic plan of action for transitioning to renewable energy, Niklaus said. But the most important step is for University President Robert L. Barchi and the administration to sign on to the ACUPCC.
“It's very hard to get a meeting with President Barchi. So it takes a huge push from the entire community,” Nicklaus said. “There's so many things that could be on their (the administration's) mind, so why this? Right now it needs to be because everyone cares, everyone wants this, and everyone knows that we need to do this.”