U saves green by going green

By Chris Mumford, Staff Writer

By doing such simple things as turning off the lights when leaving a room, the U reports that its energy conservation efforts have saved at least $1 million–and it’s predicted to be only the beginning of reducing the U’s expenditures by the millions.

Led by the Office of Sustainability and the Energy Management Office, the U has become one of the nation’s top six universities for clean energy investment, according to an executive summary released by the U.

But although new technologies and innovative building codes account for a major portion of the overall savings, simple practices that cost virtually nothing, such as making sure unoccupied buildings are not wasting power, have alone contributed roughly $1 million last year to the total savings, according to U administration.

Bianca Shama, a resource conservation specialist with the Energy Management Office, said that the cost-trimming changes of behavior she advocates are the same ones that people use to reduce their home utility bills.

Campus facilities continually need to re-evaluate the power-saving strategies, Shama said. She also noted the need to strike a balance between “making sure that people are comfortable in (campus facilities), but making sure there isn’t that after-hours waste.”

Students, she added, can also take a more active role in energy conservation by turning off lights in empty classrooms and bathrooms, and by reporting wasteful practices to her department. Past reports of wasteful water use and lights left on constantly in conference rooms have been a boon to campus efficiency, she said.

Jay Sisam, director of campus energy management. agreed, but cautioned that it can be easy to slip back into bad habits.

“I think that it’s important to remember that with behavior (changes), if you slack off then you’re going to see your savings start to slide,” he said.

But human error is out of the equation with the green technology the U is implementing to eventually save more green.

Advanced energy technology such as the U’s solar energy panels is impressive, but the system could take as long as 30 years to pay for itself with energy savings, Sisam said.

The biggest savings have come from new, energy-efficient techniques and technologies employed as new facilities are planned and built. In contrast, new building codes and retrofit projects that improve the efficiency of existing buildings can take little more than three years to pay for themselves.

“It’s really about identifying opportunities before a building is ever constructed,” Sisam said.

For instance, simply replacing the 1000-watt fixtures in the Field House with 350-watt fluorescent lights cuts energy use in the facility by 60 percent. This simple retrofit project will pay for itself in just under four years, Sisam said.

Overall, building recommissions and retrofits cost between $500,000 and $600,000 a year, and take an average of three and a half years to pay itself off.

Sisam said that his department is pursuing only those projects that will pay for themselves in a minimum of seven years, with the exception of projects funded by grants that are aimed specifically at certain renewable energy projects, such as the photovoltaic array.

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