AUC Issues Third 2015 Carbon Footprint Report
For the third year in a row, The American University in Cairo (AUC) issued the carbon footprint report, which –– for the first time this year –– measures AUC New Cairo’s carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions over the span of three years, not just one: from academic year (AY) 2012 to AY 2014. Over the past three years, AUC has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 4.25 percent. “For the first time, you have three years of reliable data, and you can see trends and make comparisons,” said Sustainability Director Marc Rauch. “By measuring the total greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of our daily activities and campus operations, we understand the impact of these activities on global warming and we see the big picture of how we use scarce resources such as natural gas, electricity and water.” Rauch noted that they found that almost 95 percent of AUC’s carbon footprint is due to energy used for three systems: HVAC, lighting and transportation.
At the heart of this study is a concern for Egypt’s vulnerability to the effects of global warming. Rising sea levels could displace large numbers of the country’s coastal population in cities such as Alexandria and Port Said, while also destroying precious farmland in the Delta. Changes in rainfall from global warming may also affect the flow of the Nile from its source in Ethiopia, leaving the agricultural sector –– and all of Egypt –– with a less predictable supply of fresh water.
“Measuring our carbon footprint is a logical step toward reducing energy bills and carbon emissions, and toward fulfilling our responsibility as an institution toward climate change in a cost-effective way,” said Assistant Professor of Sustainable Design Khaled Tarabieh, who helped spearhead research and writing of the report. “The report is the first in the Middle East and North Africa region to assess the performance of campus-wide sustainability policies, offering a simple method that is applicable to other institutions at both the national and regional levels.”
Between AY12 and AY14, AUC’s carbon footprint decreased by 1,611 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2e), so that it currently measures approximately 36,100 MT CO2e. The report outlines reductions and increases for the six main contributors to AUC’s greenhouse gas emissions as follows, with 22 percent reduction in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), 8 percent reduction in electricity (Non-HVAC), 21 percent in the usage of paper and 25 percent for water. However there were increases by 25 percent in transportation and 13 percent in refrigerants.
Rauch explained that AUC’s overall energy use intensity and its level of carbon emissions per full-time equivalent student now place it in the middle third of American universities that operate in hot-dry climates similar to Cairo’s, including Arizona State University and the University of California, Los Angeles.
At AUC, electricity is used mainly to operate the HVAC system and for lighting and other equipment. From AY12 to AY14, there was an 8 percent decline in carbon dioxide emissions from electricity. However, this did not keep pace with the 15.5 percent decline in electricity consumption. “This is due to AUC shifting a big part of its consumption of electricity from the Cairo Grid to its on-campus central utility plant, with 80 percent of AUC’s electricity now coming from its own power plant and only 20 percent from the Cairo Grid,” said Rauch.
“What we’ve learned,” he noted, “is that the Cairo Grid, which has a system of power plants all vastly bigger than our on-campus utility, operates more efficiently than AUC’s power plant because of economies of scale. This means that less fuel is used to produce a kilowatt hour of electricity, and using less fuel results in fewer carbon dioxide emissions. Thus, shifting consumption from the Cairo Grid to AUC’s own power plant has caused our reduction in emissions from electricity consumption to slow down. The effect is most noticeable between AY12 and AY13, when AUC reduced its electricity consumption by 10 percent, but reduced its CO2e emissions from electricity consumption by only 1 percent.”
There are major advantages, however, to using AUC’s power plant, Rauch pointed out. “Even though the Cairo Grid is more efficient in terms of emissions, the fuel it uses –– a mix of natural gas and mazut or diesel –– is not as environmentally friendly as AUC’s power plant, which uses only cleaner natural gas. The cost of electricity produced at our own power plant is also much cheaper than electricity consumed from the Cairo Grid.”
AUC’s power plant also features co-generation, a process of capturing and recycling waste heat from electricity generators to produce almost half of the hot water used on campus without burning additional natural gas. “Without co-generation, AUC’s carbon footprint would have been nearly 3 percent larger than it is,” Rauch said.
There has been a steady decline in the use of paper at AUC New Cairo, which resulted in a 21 percent reduction in emissions. From AY12 to AY14, AUC switched to treated wastewater, or recycled water, for irrigation of campus landscaping, instead of domestic (drinking quality) water. In addition to using recycled water, AUC introduced conservation measures for domestic water, such as installing water-saving plumbing fixtures. “In some campus buildings, such measures reduced domestic water consumption by up to 40 percent,” Rauch said.
In addition, measures taken to encourage carpooling resulted in having 45 percent of people carpooling at least once a week in AY14, compared to only 19 percent in AY12.
Carbon dioxide emissions from the use of refrigerants on campus increased by 13 percent from AY12 to AY14. “This is largely due to the installation of more standalone air conditioning units that use refrigerants, in addition to increased maintenance of equipment where refrigerants are used,” Rauch said.
“This report is data-intensive work that required collaboration and detailed auditing,” said Tarabieh. “Developing a systematic way for data collection is a critical part to sustain the effort for years to come. The team spent time and effort to institutionalize the process so it sustains itself for the future, and we are proud of our work and ready to disseminate it to other institutions.”