Net-Zero Emissions by 2048

UW–Madison is planning for climate action with the Wisconsin Idea top of mind: centering people, viewing our campus and outlying lands as a living learning lab that benefits students and researchers, and working cooperatively with the private sector, our neighbors, and local communities to honor the contributions of our alumni and inspire the leaders of tomorrow.

 

How We're Getting There

Our goal of 2048 coincides with the university’s 200th anniversary while also aligning with recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as the City of Madison’s 2050 goal and the Wisconsin Clean Energy Plan. UW–Madison has also set an interim target of 100% renewable electricity by 2030–an ambitious yet critical step on the path to net-zero emissions.

The infrastructure changes required to achieve Net Zero will be a major undertaking. Success will depend not only on actions by UW–Madison but by our valued partners, from utility providers to state agencies, as well as other factors. Presently, UW–Madison is embarking on multiple studies to assess and understand our opportunities for action, as well as continuing to expand our renewable energy portfolio and seek opportunities for collaboration. Below, we define Net Zero and offer examples of the work we are doing to get there. 

Net Zero refers to the state in which the greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere are balanced by removal out of the atmosphere. In the context of UW–Madison, this means that we must:

Reduce our direct carbon emissions from sources on our physical campus in Madison, including our heating and cooling to campus facilities, the use of campus-owned vehicles and equipment, and refrigerants, chemicals, and (also known as Scope 1 emissions). Recent Progress:

  • The university is completing a decarbonization study that will develop options for converting the campus heating and cooling systems to a low-carbon district energy system
  • ​​Paul Wilson, the Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering at UW–Madison, led a study that explored concepts for how next generation microreactors could enhance energy resilience at UW–Madison and other locations. A recent capstone project from the Energy Analysis and Policy program explored this topic further.

Reduce our indirect carbon emissions from electricity produced off-campus that we purchase (also known as Scope 2 emissions). Recent Progress:

  • Thanks to a year of research, project development, partnership building, and coordination from the Office of Sustainability Green Fund led by students, the Gordon Dining & Event Center features a solar array on its roof that is projected to produce 42,800 kWh of electricity a year, or the energy use of five typical Wisconsin homes. 
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Visitor Center recently completed lighting upgrades and a solar project with an online dashboard to track clean electricity production. A key feature of this project is innovative public education and outreach. 
  • The university is completing a study of campus rooftops for potential solar installation; partnering with our utilities on solar projects such as the O’Brien Solar Fields; and developing renewable energy at outlying lands such as a  solar and agricultural research project at the Kegonsa Research Campus.

Reduce our indirect carbon emissions from other sources (also known as Scope 3 emissions). This includes sources like commuting, items the university purchases, and building materials. Recent Progress:

  • The university is supporting the UW Zero Waste strategic initiative, which will address embodied emissions associated with purchased goods and services and capital goods.

Increase positive actions that reduce our carbon footprint, such as by studying and improving our carbon sequestration by crops or forests in our outlying lands, or investing in high-quality carbon offsets. Recent Progress:

  • The university is collaborating with the Universities of Wisconsin to explore a variety of financial instruments to offset emissions as a bridge-strategy to meet these goals while allowing the time to efficiently address the needed infrastructure changes. Furthermore, the university is funding a post-doctoral researcher focused on assessing the potential carbon sequestration on university-owned lands.

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