Analysis of Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Carbon Offsets at Duke University


Fall 2014 - Spring 2015


Many universities globally are embarking on voluntary efforts to become climate neutral to combat global warming. In 2007, Duke University adopted a goal to be climate neutral by 2024. The Office of the Executive Vice President established the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI) in June 2009 to develop the University’s strategy for meeting its carbon offset goals. As the client for this report, the DCOI charged Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment Masters team with preparing a purchasing guide to aid in its strategy. The paper analyzes the options considered by Duke to meet its carbon neutrality goals, which include: reducing on-campus emissions through improving energy efficiency; buying carbon offsets on the market; creating carbon offsets through local projects; purchasing Renewable Energy Credits; and developing renewable energy resources on-campus. The final product sets forth a recommended strategy to meet the carbon offsets goals, including a timeline of purchases and an overview of costs. Given the University’s role as an institution motivated by both financial and non-financial goals, such as education and economic benefits to the local community, combinations of purchasing options are presented in three portfolios: the cheapest portfolio, the portfolio yielding the greatest co-benefits to the community and university, and the portfolio balancing costs and benefits. The cheapest portfolio recommends energy efficiency through behavioral changes on campus; purchased methane capture offsets; and methane capture offsets generated through local projects. The balanced portfolio recommends on-campus renewable energy (a Duke-owned solar PV system); forestry offsets purchased from local vendors; and Green Source Rider renewable energy (an experimental program implemented by the Duke Energy utility designed to give non-residential, energy-intensive customers the option of offsetting some or all of their energy consumption from new load with renewable energy). The highest co-benefits portfolio recommends Duke-developed forest offsets and Duke-developed methane capture offsets. A sensitivity analysis examines potential changes in the policy landscape that would affect the purchasing decisions favorable to Duke, including a price on carbon; changes in the cost of renewable energy; and a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard.




Ellis Baehr, Ashley Brasovan, Elena Kazarov, Jing Tan, Yee Zhang


Timothy Johnson, Charlotte Clark, Charles Adair


Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative, Facilities Management Department

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Air & Climate, Buildings, carbon offsets, Energy, Energy Efficiency, renewable energy