Energy & Climate


PlaNYC Carbon Challenge Participant 

Although climate change is a global problem, its effects are often felt locally. Recognizing the need for action, in 2007 New York City released PlaNYC, a comprehensive sustainability plan that set out the ambitious goal to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. 
In the same year, Columbia signed on to participate in Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC Carbon Challenge for universities, pledging to reduce carbon emissions 30% in 10 years.  
As an additional part of the challenge, Columbia produces an annual Climate Action Plan, which details strategies to reduce carbon emissions such as replacing old and inefficient equipment, implementing energy standards for labs, installing geothermal and microturbine energy systems  and LED lighting and energy-efficient central systems. Columbia University has reduced its carbon emissions intensity per square foot by 16.8% since the 2006 base year level. 

Powerhouse Chiller Plant Expansion

Columbia University's goal is to provide economical and reliable air conditioning on a 24-hour basis to its Morningside campus buildings. In order to meet growing cooling demands, the University has committed to undertake a major expansion of its original powerhouse--the central cooling plant on the Morningside Heights campus.
The powerhouse, which measures approximately 12,000 square feet, will be renovated and receive two new, ultra efficient chillers. One of the 2,800 ton chillers is driven by a steam turbine and the other chiller utilizes an electric motor. The flexibility to draw on either steam or electric power reduces stress on the electrical grid during the summer months and allows the University to respond to changing energy costs and demand year round. Read more about Columbia's Powerhouse renovations. 


Residential Fuel Conversion

Columbia is in the process of converting 113 residential buildings from distillate fuel oil to natural gas, with the help of Con Edison and the PlaNYC Clean Heat Initiative. It is estimated that the University will save nearly $3 million in annual operating costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an 7,238 metric tons.  
Changes to the fuel mix in both the Powerhouse and the residential fuel conversion have reduced Columbia’s carbon intensity by 11.2%.
Columbia will reduce carbon intensity by another 2.7% when the remaining buildings are converted. More importantly, this initiative will reduce particulate matter emissions from burning natural gas, rather than fuel oil, and from eliminating the need for the delivery of fuel oil by truck, as natural gas will be supplied by underground pipe. These particulate matter reductions will have a large and immediate impact on local air quality, making air cleaner for everyone in the neighboring community.  
This project included a total of 113 buildings, and Columbia has completed 87 of those buildings, including one of the single largest in the project, Nash Hall.


Demand Side Management

Understanding that Demand Side Management projects will contribute significantly to the goal of 30% emissions reduction by 2017, Columbia has adopted a unique approach to effectively implement a large number of energy conservation projects in a relatively short time frame. 
Through a competitive selection process, Columbia University selected NORESCO, a leading Energy Services Company, to be Columbia’s Demand Side Management partner. This multi-year partnership provides Columbia access to a pool of experts that focus on implementing large-scale energy conservation and renewable energy projects in a compressed time-frame. This creative approach allows internal staff to focus on other major initiatives such as the fuel-conversion and sustainability programs. 

EPA National Building Competition

For two years running, Columbia has entered buildings into the EPA’s National Building Competition, a nationwide competition to see who could reduce energy waste the most. Columbia’s School of Social Work achieved an 11.54 percent reduction from its starting energy use intensity (EUI), effectively preventing the emission of 187.3 MtCO2e, equivalent to eliminating the electricity use of 23 homes for an entire year, or to the carbon sequestered by 4,803 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. 

Fleet Hybridization

Columbia’s Public Safety department has introduced fleet hybridization as a means of further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Once fleets are incorporated into Bloomberg’s PlaNYC challenge, these savings will count toward Columbia’s mayoral carbon challenge goal. Hybrid cars are introduced into the patrol fleet as older vehicles are retired, in the hopes of eventually replacing the entire fleet with hybrids. The effect of these vehicles is near-zero emissions and maximized fuel efficiency. The anticipated effect is a savings of 2,200 gallons of gas per year. With this, the Department of Public Safety will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.  
Additionally, the University provides easily accessible information about the mass public transportation available in New York City, such as the subways and buses. 

Energy-Saving Lighting & Light Sensors

For about 15 years, the University has been replacing incandescent lighting with more efficient, longer-lasting fluorescent bulbs. 
The environmental benefit of fluorescent lighting rests in its energy savings. One 27-watt fluorescent light has the same light output as one 100-watt incandescent bulb, translating into a near 75 percent energy savings. This means less energy and the pollutants and green house gases associated with producing that electricity. In fact, the life span of a 27-watt compact fluorescent bulb will save more than 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere when compared with the 100 watt bulb. Moreover, the conventional incandescent bulb lasts for 750 hours, while the fluorescent one lives to the ripe old age of 10,000 hours.
On the Morningside campus, lighting controls include timers in most academic spaces. These devices prevent lights from being left on overnight and are usually programmed for 10-to-12 hour control settings. Recent technology improvements have made occupancy sensors much more reliable than they have been in the past in determining whether a space is truly vacant and switching off lights accordingly. The University will move to this newer, more-sophisticated type of lighting control on new construction projects. 

Geothermal Energy

Knox Hall, located at Columbia affiliate Union Theological Seminary on 122nd Street and Broadway, utilizes four 2,000-foot deep geothermal wells. The geothermal wells, each eight inches in diameter, provide heating and cooling by drawing ground water from the earth. The wells eliminate the less efficient chillers associated with more traditional systems. By coupling the building's mechanical systems with earth's natural resources, the geothermal wells allow for the installation of a sustainable system design which benefits not only the University but the community as a whole.  By using this "greener" system, the University projects energy savings of 50% - 60%. 

Green Labs


In the design of the Northwest Corner Building (NWC) and other projects, Columbia is collaborating with Labs21, a voluntary partnership program jointly sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) to improve the environmental performance of U.S. laboratories. The goal of the program is to encourage the development of sustainable, high-performance and low-energy laboratories nationwide. As a Labs21 Partner, Columbia will set measurable energy and environmental performance goals for the seven floors of laboratories in ISB, benchmark performance using Labs21 tools and share performance results.  

Fume Hood Upgrades
Phased rehabilitation and upgrading to "low-flow" fume hoods on the Morningside Campus is yet another contribution to Columbia's energy-saving efforts.  
Get Involved