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Electrifying UCSD: A Campus Electrification Scenario and Cost Estimate


UCSD’s problematic reliance on carbon offsets to meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025 has been widely documented by climate activists. There is a broad movement calling for electrification as the best solution for UCSD to meet its climate goals. Even the Chancellor recognizes that electrification may be necessary, having recently authorized $250,000 for a study on campus electrification. Given that the UCSD administration has previously rejected proposals for electrification on the grounds of capital costs and the stranded asset cost of the cogeneration plant, there is a need for an independent estimate of what electrification of UCSD’s campus would take and the climate benefit that it would provide.

I performed a cost analysis of an electrified UCSD campus using actual campus energy data. The principal features of this electrification scenario are:

1) campus electricity is supplied entirely by renewable energy,

2) heating and cooling needs are met using electrical energy,

3) transportation is fully electric, and

4) campus is resilient to grid outages using on-campus energy storage.

The result of this cost estimate is, of course, that electrification is more expensive than continuing to use methane-based cogeneration, but we already knew that. The key result here is that the benefits of electrification are worth the immediate cost, and that electrification will save UCSD money in the long run.

The foremost benefit of electrification is the reduction of UCSD’s negative impact on the environment. Electrification results in the complete elimination of Scope-1 and Scope-2 greenhouse gas emissions, which total about 200,000 metric tons of CO2e per year. Lifecycle emissions that include manufacturing and resource extraction will be reduced by about 90%. The water used for electricity generation, a major concern of battery manufacturing, is also reduced through electrification. The large land-use impact necessary to accommodate solar PV generation can be reduced by maximizing the deployment of solar on existing rooftops and developed campus land.

The financial benefit of electrification is evident considering the political reality of the climate crisis. The current methane cogeneration system is so cheap because it externalizes the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution. Since UCSD is part of a local and global community that is committed to eliminating carbon pollution, and given that a carbon tax is an economic necessity to incentivize carbon reduction, it is very likely that UCSD’s emissions will be subject to carbon taxation in the near future. Ignoring this cost, which a UCSD report on electrification is likely to do, would misrepresent the university’s financial future. Using a carbon tax of $250/t CO2e, recommended by the International Energy Agency for advanced economies in 2050, results in a 25% reduction in annual campus energy costs. Since the lifetime of campus energy systems is about 30 years, UCSD should be prepared to pay that price on any new carbon-emitting infrastructure it chooses to use.

Electrification at UCSD is clearly beneficial for the environment and for the long-term success of the university. To see how you can help promote electrification at UCSD, visit the campus electrification campaign at electrifyuc.org.

Link to electrification analysis: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQituXFBpATW-eU-SXtkfK80NpO1X1TJTytTbih8ca3SoWe69FoRWLkFWFVodsT2NKY5Y0v9T6llsp5/pub

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