University works to be energy-efficient

August 29, 2002

Each month, the University Park campus spends $1 million on electricity costs -- not exactly chump change.

That's why the University is working to become more energy efficient through the Energy Star program.

"It's a methodical way of doing energy conservation," said Doug Donovan, program coordinator.

Energy Star was launched in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has expanded to cover new homes, most of the building sector, residential heating and cooling equipment, major appliances, office equipment, lighting, consumer electronics and other products. The program is in partnership with more than 7,000 private and public sector organizations.

The University became an Energy Star partner on Feb. 22, 2001, dedicating 24-million square feet of building space to energy efficiency upgrades. As a partner in this voluntary federal program, the University has agreed to a five-step program aimed at energy conservation: installing more efficient lighting, building tune-ups, reducing energy loads, upgrading air distribution systems and upgrading central plants.


That means retrofitting buildings, looking at purchasing agreements to see whether an item that looks like a bargain will actually cost the University more in the long run to operate and shutting down monitors on idle computers.

The benefit for the University? Energy cost savings, a cleaner environment and a positive relationship with state and federal regulatory agencies. "In the past, those agencies looked at us as something to regulate; now they look at us as their partners," according to Paul Ruskin, Energy Star information coordinator. "We were doing a lot of things (conservationwise) those agencies didn't know about."
Among them: The University uses a centralized system to track energy usage and to remotely monitor and control the heating and cooling of buildings. It implemented a heat recovery project at the Visitor Center and has been reducing building temperatures during winter break for years.

Continuous Commissioning

The University is moving ahead on a number of conservation fronts, all aimed at achieving the Energy Star goals. Retrofitting buildings comes under the guidelines of the Continuous Commissioning Program, a process where the goal is minimizing energy costs by 20 percent. "We make the building work as best we can," Donovan said, explaining the building is inspected, existing problems are resolved and procedures instituted to optimize building energy systems. For instance Donovan noted, the wrong size air conditioning unit, or "chiller," for a building will provide inefficient cooling, raising energy costs. Replacing the equipment with a newer, more energy efficient model that is the proper size for the square footage is one result of Continuous Commissioning. Another is reducing the lighting load, which gives off heat, in turn reducing the air conditioning load.

The University is exploring a number of energy standards for buildings, which meet the goals and vision of the Energy Star program. The state legislature recently approved the Pennsylvania Guaranteed Energy Savings Act (ESCO), in which approved energy services companies do retrofitting work that reduces utility bills by about 20 to 30 percent.

Contractors inspect the building, decide what saves energy in terms of lighting equipment, controls, etc., calculate what it costs, what it saves to have the work done and if the proposal meets the payback criteria, the work is completed. "If they don't save what's guaranteed, they write the University a check for the difference," Donovan said. "It's taking operational dollars and buying capital improvements."

Efficiency guarantee

Laura Miller, project engineer, was hired in December to get the program up and running. The University issued a request for letters of intent (LOIs) for a guaranteed energy savings project and has received nine LOIs from the prequalified ESCOS. She is in the process of responding to those companies. "For instance if we replace a chiller and it cost $50,000, then our energy bill should go down $50,000 over the life of the project," she said. As a part of that process, the University can request Energy Star ratings on equipment be included in bid proposals. "The goal is to guarantee better, more efficient equipment that is going to pay for itself because it's avoiding energy costs or saving money on energy that's not being used now," she said.

Other standards that the University is looking into are ASHRAE 90.1 (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers), which provides energy standards for new construction, ventilation systems, etc. and LEED (Leadership in Environmental Engineering Design), which has various levels. The impact of these two programs could reduce energy consumption by 50 percent or more.

LEED is being considered for the proposed School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) building, according to Rick Riccardo, project manager.

The 'silver' standard

"What we're looking to do is use this building as kind of a watermark," he said. "When we hired the contractor, we tell him this building will be no less than silver, (a LEED standard level that awards points for various aspects of sustainable design including energy usage). What that means is we've established a standard of this building type size and usage. We check everything against that standard and say we're going to do better."

The SALA building is expected to be ready for bid in spring 2003 with occupancy expected in fall 2004.

Energy Star standards are being applied to new purchases. This spring, Joyce Haney, assistant director of procurement services, sent a letter to the 6,000 procurement cardholders at the University asking them to purchase products with the Energy Star label, explaining that the products use 25 to 50 percent less energy than traditional counterparts. Haney also sent letters to University suppliers requesting alternative bids using environmentally friendly products. For instance, Haney said, the University bid out a contract for microfridges for the dorms. It turned out that the bidder with lowest offer was not the vendor with the lowest electricity costs. The University awarded the bid to the vendor with the energy conserving model, she said.

"We need to consider not just purchase price but life cycle costs, factoring in the cost of electricity, the cost of disposing of the unit at the end, etc.," she said.

Low-key response

Response has been low key from the cardholders and the vendors, Haney said, although the environmental stewardship poster presentation at the office supply show this spring attracted several positive comments.

On an individual level, University employees can help conserve energy simply by shutting down their computers at the end the day, Ruskin said.

Shutting down the monitor is a small issue, a mere flick of the switch, but the energy savings can be substantial. Turning off "the electricity to drive monitors reduces heat, which in turn reduces the air conditioning load," according to Donovan.

That's a small part of what the University is doing about saving energy from computers. The University installed Energy Star software in about 500 computers at the Office of Physical Plant that automatically puts the computer monitor to "sleep" after a 10-minute period of inactivity.

"The next step is to encourage people to put their copiers to sleep," Donovan said. "The feature exists on most of the copiers on campus. All we have to do is enable it."

"It's a positive thing we can do without spending money," he said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009