Report: Colleges and Universities Can Lead America’s Shift to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

Media Contacts
Bronte Payne

Environment New York

ITHACA, NEW YORK –  America’s colleges and universities are positioned to lead the transition to 100 percent renewable energy, according to a report released today by Environment America Research & Policy Center. The report stresses that a complete shift to clean, renewable energy is the best way for colleges and universities to achieve their carbon reduction goals and highlights schools across the country that are taking measures to make the transition to renewable energy.

“Colleges and universities across the country are situated to lead the charge in the transition to a 100 percent clean energy future”, said Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Associate with Environment America. “In setting a bold and necessary goal of 100 percent renewable energy, Cornell University will continue its climate leadership here in New York.”

The amount of energy we use pales in comparison to America’s renewable energy potential. According to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, we could power the nation 100 times over with existing solar potential and 10 times over with available wind resources.  At the same time, there is a tremendous opportunity to reduce energy consumption through energy conservation and efficiency measures.  

“Achieving our 2035 campus carbon neutrality goal includes a shift to 100 percent renewable energy to heat and power campus buildings, while investing in energy conservation and engaging the entire campus community to dramatically reduce our energy consumption,” said Sarah Zemanick, Campus Sustainability Office Director.

According to the report, Renewable Energy 100: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus, transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy is the best way for the hundreds of universities that have made commitments to carbon neutrality by 2050 to achieve their goals.  The report cites a number of factors that make institutions of higher education well-suited to lead America’s efforts:

  • They are significant energy consumers, serving more than 20 million students;

  • College and university campuses often have physical attributes that make them good locations for hosting clean energy projects. Many have space on rooftops, in parking lots, and on marginal land for hosting solar panels, wind turbines, and other clean energy technologies;

  • They can save money and hedge against volatile fossil fuel costs by investing in clean energy;

  • They are leaders of innovation and training;

“The Cornell Leadership, and the students that support this leadership, have already made meaningful progress on climate action and have in place a plan to make the campus carbon neutral by 2035,” said Cornell University Professor, Bruce Monger. “Many universities have pledged goals of carbon neutrality and some have even pledged carbon neutrality dates sooner than Cornell’s 2035 goal. But Cornell is one of the very few universities that has drawn up concrete, actionable plans to get the campus to net zero emission by 2035. So, in this sense, Cornell is certainly a true leader on climate action.”

Adopting clean energy appeals to prospective students and meets the desires of current students and faculty.

“The course of history can be changed by small groups of motivated people. That’s the way it tends to happen, as evidenced here at Cornell. A few members of different organizations spent hours upon hours writing op-eds, passing resolutions, organizing rallies and gathering support from on-campus and off-campus allies,” said Elizabeth Chi of Climate Justice Cornell. “We organized a panel showcasing how New York’s renewable energy commitments resulted from the combination of multidisciplinary research, policy and most importantly, the momentum created by movements. Those panelists included Bronte Payne from Environment America, student activists, and Cornell researchers actively engaged in the Climate Action plan. Shortly after, resolutions and rallies led to a meeting with administrators and a renewed declaration of 2035 carbon neutrality.”

By setting ambitious clean energy goals, colleges and universities can bolster learning and research, drive innovation, attract new students, and save money – all while setting an example for the nation and reducing their own environmental impact.

“A shift to 100 percent renewable energy is completely necessary,” said Payne. “Working with Cornell University to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy allows us to train young activists, future leaders and researchers to continue advocacy on clean energy off campus and in their communities.”