NEWS

Iowa universities expand energy efficiency

Summer months offer prime opportunity

Two boilers, which were converted from coal to natural gas, in operation at the Iowa State University Power Plant in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. The two boilers will be retired once the project is completed. Three new natural gas boilers are being added to a new section of the building and two coal boilers have been modified to comply with National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Two boilers, which were converted from coal to natural gas, in operation at the Iowa State University Power Plant in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. The two boilers will be retired once the project is completed. Three new natural gas boilers are being added to a new section of the building and two coal boilers have been modified to comply with National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — With spring blooming and summer fast approaching, University of Iowa officials are seeing green — and not just in the trees and lawns scattered across campus.

The UI Office of the Registrar, Office of Sustainability and Facilities Management are expanding an energy-reducing — and thus cost-saving — initiative that capitalizes on the exodus of many students over the summer.

The UI “energy smart scheduling” program works to reduce energy consumption and costs by compacting classroom scheduling and consolidating the use of occupied space on campus. It debuted last year in three UI buildings, and officials this summer plan to expand it to six.

Those summer-specific efforts are just a piece of the campus' larger sustainability vision to meet a handful of targets by 2020 — including achieving net-negative energy growth, or consuming less energy on campus in 2020 than in 2010 despite significant growth.

Officials said they're constantly working toward those goals, but the summer months present a prime opportunity.

“We are always trying to uncover energy opportunities with the goal of not affecting creature comfort,” said Doug Litwiller, UI associate director of energy conservation.

UI is not alone in its seasonal sustainability efforts. Officials with Iowa State University said they take advantage of the summer by conducting energy audits, turning off laboratory equipment and consolidating classrooms when possible.

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The University of Northern Iowa has an energy-efficiency policy that allows it to drop building temperatures as low as 60 degrees during non-operating hours in the winter and raise them up to 85 degrees for unoccupied spaces in the summer.

A different approach

UI facilities and scheduling officials launched a pilot version of the summer-efficiency program last year in the English-Philosophy Building, Maclean Hall and the Pomerantz Center. Those buildings, considered “easy targets” because of the equipment and systems involved, saw fewer classes in the afternoons and no evening classes or events when it costs more to cool buildings.

Instead of running the air-condition in those buildings from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., as is the norm, the cooling clicked off at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day on the weekends. Classes were relocated, if possible, to spaces that had to be cooled, said Renee Houser, who's in charge of classroom scheduling with the Office of the Registrar.

To prevent unintended consequences, the UI enacted system protections to click on the air if temperatures and humidity levels became too extreme.

“We are working with instructors and getting buy-in,” Houser said. “They are used to energy being provided year-round. This is a different approach.”

Results of last summer's 10-week pilot program showed a reduction in electrical consumption of 19 percent in the three buildings. Use of chilled water to help cool the buildings went down as well, and janitorial needs dropped due to the closure of several classrooms.

The efforts saved up to $10,000 in the first year, and officials expect to save more this year with three additional buildings coming under the classroom- and energy-consolidation microscope. Details are being finalized on which buildings will be included, but Boyd Law Building will be one of them, officials said.

The hope is to continue expanding the program in subsequent years, although Houser said she doesn't know if summer consolidations will be possible in every building.

“But we want to be as energy aware as we can moving forward,” she said.

For the 12-month period ending Feb. 28, UI purchased 278 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and used 3 trillion British thermal units of other fuels — such as steam. That is about equal to the energy consumed annually by 38,000 “average” Iowa homes, according to Wendy Moorehead, strategic communications manager for UI Facilities Management.

For the current year, the UI budgeted about $78 million for energy expenses.

Despite adding seven buildings to campus since 2010, including the College of Public Health and Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery buildings, UI is using 2.3 percent less energy than in 2010, officials said.

With several large additions expected on campus in the next few years, including the 14-floor UI Children's Hospital and two new residence halls, associate director Litwiller said his team will have to work harder to meet its goals.

“It's going to get more tough,” he said.

The sustainability team will seek to continue to expand year-round energy-saving efforts such as conducting energy audits of campus buildings, optimizing the operation of building systems and identifying system faults in hopes of keeping systems running at an optimal level.

'We need to do this'

At Iowa State University, most energy-conservation initiatives are not seasonal, said Dave Miller, associate vice president for Facilities Planning and Management. The campus does scale back cooling in idle spaces and shut down some laboratory equipment — such as fume hoods and refrigerators, Miller said.

And summers provide opportunities for energy-related modifications, such as installing efficient lighting.

But one larger piece of ISU's energy-reduction effort relates to its method for paying utility bills. Instead of paying for usage among the colleges out of an overall facilities budget, ISU now takes the money it typically spends on those buildings in one year — $26 million — and distributes it to the colleges based on their three-year consumption average.

“We said, 'We are giving you the money, and you will pay your utility bills,'” Miller said. “That incentive is huge to them because if they can save the money, they can keep the money.”

ISU started the new payment method six years ago that had savings accrue immediately.

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“We saw a 10 percent reduction in energy use,” Miller said. “The deans understood and looked at the size of the bill and said, 'We need to do this, and this will help the college.'”

Methods each college uses to cut costs include consolidating classroom space when possible, turning off equipment during down times, adding lighting censors, and keeping rooms slightly warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter, according to Miller.

“If you can shut down labs you can see some very real savings,” he said.

ISU this summer is launching an energy audit that will evaluate usage in the 13 buildings that consume the most energy annually. And the campus is decommissioning three old coal boilers to put in gas-fired boilers in hopes of creating more opportunities to experiment with sustainable fuels.

“We should be able to experience a 5 percent energy reduction annually,” Miller said. “That's a significant number.”

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