Q&A with Sean Scollins, Assistant Vice President of Engineering and Energy for Columbia University

September 28, 2022
Sean Scollins

Sean Scollins is the new Assistant Vice President of Engineering and Energy for Columbia University Facilities and Operations. In this role, Sean leads the Energy Management Group along with the Morningside and Manhattanville Central Energy Plants. He directs, strategizes, and organizes utility plant operation, energy management, and sustainability initiatives, including master planning, conservation efforts, managing renewable energy portfolios, strategic procurement of natural gas and electricity, central plant oversight, and other energy-related strategic initiatives.

We've asked Sean some questions about sustainable energy management at Columbia. Check out his answers below!

Q: Columbia has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. What are some things that need to happen in order for the University to reach this goal?

A: Columbia University has set impressive energy goals that are going to require significant upgrades to existing infrastructure across the Morningside and Manhattanville campuses. The central energy plants need to be reengineered to evolve with New York’s commitment to a greener, more sustainable electricity grid. The electrification of the campus’s central utilities will meet Columbia’s net zero emissions goals and cement our reputation an Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) leader.

Q: Since you've arrived at Columbia, what are some of the projects you've worked on that will contribute to the University's net zero goal?

A: We are currently involved with upgrading the sub-metering capabilities of the campuses and making that data more readily available to our stakeholders. Real-time and diverse metering allows for a more analytical approach to energy efficiency measures. Understanding loads in the buildings at the asset level help drive system changes to improve efficiency and performance.      

Q: What is something you think most people get wrong about sustainable energy management, and how would you correct this misconception?

A: That sustainable energy management is an option! Energy markets, local, and national regulations are forcing organizations to look more deeply into their facility operations. It is no longer cutting edge or forward thinking to think about how to minimize your carbon footprint; it is now a vital business function in facility operations.      

Q: Where do you see the most opportunity for the University to take its energy strategy in terms of sustainability?

A: New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) Zone J - NYC’s electric grid - historically has been powered by fossil fuel generation assets. With future transmission projects such as Clean Path and Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), as well as offshore wind generation, New York’s grid is going to decarbonize rapidly in the coming years. Electrifying the campus central plants simply makes sense with an increasing share of the grid coming from renewable or zero emission sources.         

Q: Is there a role for students, staff, faculty, and others on campus to play in reaching Columbia's sustainable energy goals?

A: Changing major equipment is only part of the solution. We also have to change our behavior when it comes being a utility consumer. This means looking at the way we occupy and operate classrooms, laboratories, dorms, and common spaces. An informed consumer is typically an efficient consumer.    

Q: Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like the Columbia community to know about you, your role, or the University's energy management practices?

A: The future of the campus energy management and the engineering challenges that lie ahead are what attracted me to Columbia University. It is an excited time to be a part of the Facilities and Operations team!