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Climate Change

North Carolina, with its long coastline and many low-lying areas, is particularly vulnerable to the unpredictable effects of climate change. UNC has taken a leadership role in helping to understand the causes and impacts of climate change and in assessing and implementing strategies to reduce greenhouse emissions.

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University Emissions

UNC's coal cogen plantIn 2006, UNC and the town of Chapel Hill became the first town-gown partners in the country to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2050 with the Community Carbon Reduction (CRed) pledge. In 2007, UNC became a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and pledged to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Subsequently, more than 650 institutions of higher learning have endorsed the ACUPCC pledge.

To guide greenhouse gas emissions reductions at UNC, a full-time greenhouse gas emissions specialist was hired in January 2008. Building on previous, partial assessments, a comprehensive current and historical greenhouse gas emissions inventory was published in September 2008. This inventory quantified the scope one emissions resulting from on-site fuel combustion, scope two emissions from purchased electricity, and some scope three emissions resulting from university operations, but not under the University’s direct control.  Since 2008, UNC has worked to reduce total emissions by 20 percent.

Resources:
American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment
2011 Greenhouse Gas Inventory

Links:
American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment - http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org
UNC's Climate Action Plan website - http://climate.unc.edu

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Climate Action Plan

UNC's botanical gardensIn order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, UNC evaluated the most cost-effective options to reduce emissions. The first campus Climate Action Plan, completed in fall 2009, outlines the most promising opportunities over the short-, medium-, and long-term. An interim goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to year 2000 levels by 2020, despite a 50% increase in on-campus square footage in the last decade. Seventeen strategies have been identified to halve emissions at low or moderate cost. They include efficiency improvements in new and existing buildings, the introduction of heat recovery chillers, and behavioral changes.

Resources:
2011 Climate Action Plan
Interactive map of energy conservation on campus

Links:
UNC's Climate Action Plan website - http://climate.unc.edu

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Renewable Energy Opportunities

Students protesting for global warming awarenessThe greatest potential for reducing emissions lies in energy efficiency and in switching to renewable fuel sources. Although UNC has an efficient, award-winning cogeneration facility, coal is a carbon-intensive fuel. Co-firing coal with a solid biomass fuel is a potentially viable short-term strategy. Torrefied wood, a dense charcoal-like substance, has a high energy value and can be made from waste wood. The torrefaction process can also produce fuels from agricultural wastes. Pellets, or pieces, of torrefied fuels, with surface areas to facilitate combustion, will be test-fired with coal to assess the feasibility of burning this fuel in existing campus boilers.  Chancellor Thorp has committed to end UNC's use of coal by 2020, and in fall 2010 and april 2011, the first pilot burns of torrefied & pelletized wood were completed.

Methane gas produced during decomposition at Chapel Hill’s Eubanks Road landfill has long leaked into the atmosphere. In 2009, UNC signed an agreement with Orange County to capture this methane gas, which traps 20 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. While the combustion facility is built, the gas is being flared to keep it out of the atmosphere. By 2013, electricity generated by the methane will power buildings at the Airport Drive complex. More buildings will be served by methane-produced electricity as the new Carolina North campus is built out.  In 2012, a four-mile pipeline will take the gas to the new Carolina North campus, where a 1 MW generator will burn the gas for heat and electricity.  The estimated 3.2 billion cubic feet of gas collected and combusted over the project's life will prevent the release of 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to the atmosphere.

Solar energy technologies provide significant opportunities for space and water heating, and for generating electricity. The new Education Center at the North Carolina Botanical Garden is the first to sell solar- generated electricity back to the campus grid. Completed three-dimensional aerial maps indicate which campus roofs have the appropriate slope and orientation to accommodate solar energy technologies.  Morrison dormitory on South Campus has implemented its own solar heating installation with help from RESPC.

Although North Carolina’s central piedmont is not rich in wind resources, the mountains and coast experience strong, steady winds that may be suitable for generating electricity. At the request of the North Carolina General Assembly, Carolina conducted a feasibility study of coastal wind potential in 2009. The assessment addressed ecological risks and synergies, available transmission capacity, carbon reduction potential, economics, and utility statutory and regulatory constraints. Preliminary findings indicate that there is potential for economically attractive, utility-scale production of wind energy off the coast of North Carolina and within the eastern Pamlico Sound. The study team recommended aggressive pursuit of offshore wind energy and careful study of new federal regulatory processes. The first commercial scale wind turbine will be built by Duke Energy in the eastern Pamlico Sound.

Other sectors, or emission-reduction wedges, addressed in the Climate Action Plan include new “green” development, improved efficiencies within the energy supply infrastructure, demand-side efficiencies in existing buildings, behavioral changes to reduce energy demand, enhanced waste management and purchasing practices, and more multi-modal transportation options. These areas are addressed in other sections of this website.

Resources:
2011 Climate Action Plan

Links:
UNC Energy Services - http://www.energy.unc.edu
UNC's Climate Action Plan website - http://climate.unc.edu
North Carolina Botanical Garden - http://www.ncbg.unc.edu

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Statewide Leadership

Teaching in a classroomBeyond implementing new practices and technologies on campus, UNC is providing local and state leaders with the tools to address climate change. In October 2008, the Center for Urban and Regional Studies hosted more than 100 policymakers, researchers, students, and practitioners at a conference addressing “The Impact of Climate Change on an Evolving North Carolina Coast.” Nationally recognized experts discussed the latest forecasts for sea level rise, the potential impacts for North Carolina, and options for implementing new strategies.

At the request of the North Carolina General Assembly, UNC’s Institute for the Environment coordinated and provided an extensive Climate Change Committee Report in spring 2009. This report tapped the expertise of more than 40 University faculty and staff to provide policymakers with explanations, predictions, and recommendations specifically related to climate change in North Carolina. Mitigating and managing the negative environmental and public health effects associated with climate change and seizing new economic development and infrastructure opportunities are likely to be among the highest priorities of state governments for decades to come.

Resources :
2011 Climate Action Plan

Links:
Center for Urban and Regional Studies - http://curs.unc.edu
UNC Institute for the Environment - http://www.ie.unc.edu

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