The Mid-year Appalachian Energy Summit kicked off with a presentation on how higher education institutions can reach climate action goals in various ways.
Dave Karlsgodt, the director of Energy Advisory Services at Brailsford & Dunlavey, Inc., presented on different strategies higher institutions could use to meet goals related to climate.
Karlsgodt is currently leading the energy transition and carbon mitigation efforts with the University of California System and UMass Amherst. Karlsgodt’s presentation was in three parts: a non-linear case study, trends and tech and minding the funding gap.
“Dave has a tremendous amount of experience helping higher education institutions reach their climate action goals,” said Lee Ball, App State’s chief sustainability officer. “He also understands the financial and political challenges and offers very pragmatic solutions based on his first hand experiences.”
The case study Karlsgodt presented was with Michigan State University, which had two clear goals: decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy. Before the university could reach those benchmarks, they had to create a road map.
Early on in the process of transforming a university’s energy system is planning, but Karlsgodt warned officials to not be too specific in the early planning stages.
“One of the things I think we really came back to was making our tools and our planning processes higher level, and not getting down into the weeds on any one solution, especially at this really framing stage,” Karlsgodt said.
Karlsgodt stressed that when a group starts thinking about ways to change the energy system they won’t have all the information. In fact, “you’ll never have all the information you need.”
“But with each planning iteration, you can learn, you can adjust, you can pressure test these ideas,” Karlsgodt said. “While you certainly don’t want your central energy system to fail, we’re still in the world of strategic planning, not the technical planning that you need to do to keep your systems reliable.”
Karlsgodt next presented on some trends in technology. Some of the trends he mentioned include using solar power in buildings, water management and investing in efficient HVAC units.
Finally, Karlsgodt talked about funding these systematic changes to an institution’s campus energy system. Karlsgodt said he thinks one of the biggest issues in creating and funding these big changes is that higher education isn’t set up to invest in energy.
“When a higher education institution makes a financial decision, they’re usually looking at a combination of first cost and strategic impact,” Karlsgodt said. “Would you rather invest in fixing your steam pipes or investing in a new research program, or some pet initiative of the president?”
But when looking from an outside perspective, Karlsgodt said there’s a different picture. If the market looked at higher education, Karlsgodt said the market would see a low risk entity that has a highly bankable project with a good rate of return and low risk profile.
The question Karlsgodt sees is how to get higher education to see itself as an investment opportunity or how to use the market to get access to capital.
“I can tell you, there are billions of dollars kind of waiting and ready to invest in higher education campuses,” Karlsgodt said.
This is an excerpt from an article originally published by The Watauga Democrat. Read the full piece here.