TAU to switch to sustainable electricity in two years, carbon neutrality in decade

Tel Aviv University is the first Israeli university to take massive, practical steps against climate change.

 Tel Aviv University. (photo credit: MOSHE BEDRASHI)
Tel Aviv University.
(photo credit: MOSHE BEDRASHI)

Setting a target to reduce its campus’s carbon footprint, Tel Aviv University will become the first institution of higher learning in Israel to switch entirely to sustainable electricity in two years using photovoltaic cells on rooftops. It will even try to reduce the amount of food prepared for events and cut waste.

The decision followed its commissioning of a comprehensive survey that assessed the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated from all campus activities, with the aim of reaching carbon neutrality within the coming decade.

The university’s Green Campus Committee will use the report to formulate practical plans to reduce emissions. Among other things, it will examine the possibility of increasing the use of renewable energy sources rather than depending on electricity produced from burning natural gas.

The Green Campus Committee presented an external, comprehensive and objective report prepared by EcoTraders, a leading environmental and energy management advisory company in Tel Aviv that provides institutions with ways to fight climate change and promote energy efficiency and sustainable technologies dissemination, according to the GHG Protocol. The protocol is the global standardized framework used to measure greenhouse gas emissions. The company assessed all campus greenhouse gas emissions, both direct and indirect.

TAU has taken steps toward this goal in the past, with the establishment of its Climate Change Center, a multidisciplinary think tank bringing together dozens of researchers from units across campus and private, industry and government partners to seek out novel solutions for adapting to climate change and mitigating its harmful effects. A biorefinery lab will be built in the open sea to develop, test and perfect technologies for cultivating and processing seaweed – an as-yet untapped renewable source of food and fuel.

 Tel Aviv University (credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY) Tel Aviv University (credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)

The comprehensive report includes details on all campus facilities that are owned and operated by the university, including the Broshim and Einstein student dormitories. The carbon footprint of the university’s suppliers was also assessed, from electricity consumption on campus, to transportation and construction inputs, to the food served at conferences and cafeterias. The report was conducted using the university’s 2019 emissions data as a baseline reference – the year before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted many activities, resulting in a temporary reduction in emissions.

TAU president Prof. Ariel Porat, who also chairs the Green Campus Committee, explained that the university “has decided to do its modest part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is crucial for addressing the climate crisis. We intend to formulate a methodical and detailed 10-year plan, with the goal of attaining carbon neutrality further down the road. Our hope is to inspire other institutions in Israel and around the world to take similar actions which, in addition, help educate the next generations about this important subject.”

"We intend to formulate a methodical and detailed 10-year plan, with the goal of attaining carbon neutrality further down the road. Our hope is to inspire other institutions in Israel and around the world to take similar actions, which, in addition, help educate the next generations about this important subject.”

Tel Aviv University president Prof. Ariel Porat

TAU DIRECTOR-GENERAL Gady Frank added, “We are working to make sure that in two years, all of the electricity produced on campus will be green. Currently, we have more than 5,000 meters of photovoltaic cells, and our goal is to triple their amount on campus rooftops. In addition, we will install storage facilities, which will drastically increase the yield of these solar cells. The rest of the energy would be bought from private suppliers specializing in producing energy solely from green sources.”

TAU says it places great importance on taking action to use sustainable energy, recycle water and materials, limit the use of paper, reduce emissions caused by transportation and flights, and introduce green purchasing procedures, with the goal of eventually attaining carbon neutrality. It expects other Israeli universities will follow in its footsteps.

The report

The report showed that in 2019, TAU was responsible for greenhouse gas emissions amounting to approximately 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The vast majority of emissions (93%) were indirect, with only 7% involving direct energy-related emissions from the campus, mainly from its air conditioning systems.

Electricity consumption on campus totaled 42%; waste production and management 11%; transportation of 40,000 students and faculty members to and from campus on a daily basis, as well as staff members’ and students’ flights abroad 12%; food and beverage services 7%; construction and building maintenance inputs 4%; fuel and energy for the university’s facilities 4%; procurement 4%; and computer and laboratory equipment 3%. The remaining 6% of emissions were produced by activities in other categories.

Comparing itself to 21 leading universities around the world that conducted similar processes, TAU ranks ninth for emissions per square meter built and 12th for emissions per capita. TAU is responsible for emitting 1.56 tons of greenhouse gases per capita per year, compared to Yale University’s 8.2 tons, the University of Melbourne’s 2.7 tons, and the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany 0.73 tons.

“The report clearly shows that electricity consumption is the most polluting factor on campus,” said the team of experts. “In the past, we didn’t have the option of reducing emissions generated from electricity consumption, as the production method was determined by the Israel Electric Corporation. But now, with the opening of the energy market, we plan to consider a transition from electricity suppliers that burn natural gas to suppliers that rely on renewable energy and to expand the independent production of solar power within the campus. As for food procurement, we intend to assess a variety of possibilities – from reducing the amount of food consumed by limiting the amount of money each person is allowed to spend, to precluding the ordering of meat products for events and kiosks.”

The team concluded that the new report lays down the infrastructure that allows TAU to take a holistic view of its total greenhouse gas emissions and identify the activities that cause the most pollution.

“It will allow us to monitor and inspect the reduction in emissions over time and compare the numbers with the original values,” the team said. “It is not trivial that the university is investing resources in collecting and analyzing the data – and it is even less trivial that the university is publishing this data. But we are committed to our strategic vision of striving to attain carbon neutrality in the future.”