You get home from a long day’s work to an empty home and immediately switch on your light switch, illuminating the space. A temperature drop during the day has chilled your home, you increase the temperature on your thermostat to bring comfort back to your home. You begin to make dinner, moving in and out of your refrigerator and turning on your—most likely—electric stove. You turn on the TV or radio to give you company as you cook. You plug your phone in to bring it back to life and reenter your digital community.
All these activities are fueled by energy—from the light switch to the phone charger.
In 2018 alone, the United States’ primary energy consumption was a whooping 101.3 quadrillion (101,251,057,000,000,000) Btu. The Btu is the British thermal unit and is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.
For electrical energy, the US generated 4.17 trillion kWh in 2018; 64% was from fossil fuels, 19% from nuclear energy, and 17% from renewable resources.
In the United States, the building sector accounts for about 41% of primary energy consumption (Kim et al 2019). Within the building sector, there are about 389,000 education buildings which consume approximately 2,238 trillion Btu an equivalent energy cost of over $16.8 billion a year (Kim et al 2019). With over half of our energy produced from fossil fuels, reducing energy consumption at institutions of higher education is one way to reduce global carbon emissions.
Since its commitment to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, Gettysburg College has made great strides in implementing energy efficient practices. How do these practices offset the energy consumption of the college? Just how much does the average Gettysburg student consume, and where does this energy come from?
The American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) was initiated in 2006 by 12 founding colleges and universities. To alleviate growing concerns for the future state of our climate and planet, the commitment promises the implementation and consideration of sustainable practices and initiatives in colleges and universities. By 2008, the commitment was signed by college and university presidents across all 50 US states and the District of Columbia.
The main focus of the ACUPCC is to reduce the carbon footprint of large institutions in higher education by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon neutrality is the main goal of the commitment. Within the steps towards carbon neutrality, several points regard energy efficiency and consumption:
- “Establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least the US Green Building Council’s LEED Silver standard or equivalent”
- “Adopt an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy requiring purchase of ENERGY STAR certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist”
- “Within one year of signing this document, begin purchasing or producing at least 15% of our institution’s electricity consumption from renewable sources”
Gettysburg College signed onto the ACUPCC in 2007 and published its Climate Action Plan in 2009. In the plan, the college proposes many mitigation strategies to achieve carbon neutrality. At least ten of these strategies relate to energy consumption. Their implementation and efficiency is discussed further here.
In the following sections, energy at Gettysburg College is investigated in three parts: its consumption, its production, and its efficiency.