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At UC, Energy Savings Equals Economic Savings


Reduced energy usage at the University of Cincinnati over the last four years has held energy costs steady, avoiding an estimated $10 million in such costs. Upcoming building upgrades should further reduce energy consumption.

Date: 9/15/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824

UC ingot  

As global energy costs continue to rise, the University of Cincinnati has implemented an energy plan to reduce its energy usage for the next six years while still meeting the energy needs of UC’s Uptown campus. While university energy costs might still increase, ongoing conservation measures will mitigate their impact.

Power plant steam room
Steam room in UC's power plant.

The university has already succeeded in reducing energy consumption and avoiding costs. In the past four years, UC has reduced energy consumption by at least 13 percent  in the academic buildings on its Uptown campus, avoiding more than $10 million in energy-related costs. (Annual cost to meet the energy needs of the almost 15 million square feet that comprise UC’s Uptown campus is about $30 million.)

UC’s energy-conservation plan consists of three parts at present:

  • Low- to no-cost conservation methods.
  • Upgrades to 30-to-60 year old utility systems on campus.
  • Changes within UC’s utility plants.

This current plan is a continuation of efforts over the past 25 years. During the past 25 years, UC has consistently reduced energy usage 3-5 percent per year. So, even as the university grew, its energy load was minimized. Now, with the substantial completion of most new construction on campus, the university has been able to focus more comprehensively on reducing energy usage and costs, according to Beth McGrew, university architect. In working to reduce energy costs, she has collaborated with Kit Pearson, assistant vice president and university engineer; Pete Luken, senior project manager; and Joe Harrell, executive director of utility services.

No- or low-cost conservation methods
To limit energy use and reduce costs, UC focused aggressively on no- or low-cost conservation methods during the past four years. These efforts have resulted in an estimated $10 million in avoided energy costs. And that’s meant that even while energy costs have risen dramatically across the globe, UC’s costs have risen more slowly. 

These no- or low-cost conservation efforts include

  • Changing room-temperature settings: Higher cooling set points in the summer and lower heating set points in the winter.
  • Reducing ventilation when structures are unoccupied.
  • Changes to direct digital control systems, such as optimizing supply-pressure set points.
  • Projects to turn off lights when they are not needed and to replace hundreds of incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones.

These no- and low-cost efforts over the past four years have reduced UC’s energy consumption by 13 percent in terms of BTUs per gross square foot on the Uptown campus. (A BTU or British thermal unit is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by one degree Fahrenheit. It is used to measure energy used in the power, steam generation, heating and air conditioning industries.)

Within the next several years, UC hopes to shave off another 10-20 percent from its energy consumption. These future reductions will come from ongoing conservation efforts as well as building upgrades.


Forget SUVS: Buildings are the big energy eaters
UC’s near-term energy efforts will also focus on upgrading and retrofitting older buildings on campus.

That’s because buildings are the world’s energy eaters, consuming nearly 40 percent of overall energy resources in the United States – more than transportation or industry. For instance, commercial and residential buildings guzzle 70 percent of all electricity in the U.S. 

Recent, ongoing and coming building upgrades include

  • For the past two years, UC residence halls have competed to save on water and electricity usage, resulting in a 16 percent reduction in energy consumption and costs by students in those buildings.
  • Occupancy sensors in Baldwin Hall that will have a 3-5 year payback time, with an overall life expectancy of the sensor system of up to 20 years.
  • Replacement of 400 incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones in Zimmer Hall, as well as bulb replacement in Teachers College/Dyer Hall, both projects with a 3-5 years’ payback time.
  • Lighting changes in the Campus Recreation Center that will have a 3-5 year payback time.
  • Energy upgrades incorporated into the replacement of McMicken Hall’s 1948 heating system will cut the building’s energy use in half and will save an estimated $55,000 per year in energy costs. The 60-year-old system needed to be replaced because the old steam system regularly experienced burst pipes and poor performance.
  • Renovations within Rieveschl Hall’s 400- and 500-level labs will begin in fall 2009 and cost a total of $15 million. Ventilation-system upgrades are part of the overall renovation to be complete in 2010. These system renovations will reduce energy use in the 400- and 500-level labs by up to 70 percent, saving up to $500,000 annually.

Buildings like McMicken, Zimmer and Rieveschl halls currently house 30- to 60-year-old utility systems. All the planned upgrades will reduce their combined energy consumption by as much as 70 percent. These utility upgrades – including energy recovery systems – that will be integrated into any needed renovations are expected to pay for themselves within five years.

 

Changes to operations within UC’s utility plants
Many people may not know it, but UC has its own Central Utility Plant as well as an East Campus Utility Plant to serve close to 120 buildings. Recent, ongoing and coming changes in the plants will also add up to significant savings. These include

Utility plant worker

  • Chilling water for air conditioning during off-peak hours (when the electricity required for chilling is less expensive) and then storing the chilled water for use when air conditioning demand is highest during the hottest parts of the days. UC began practicing off-peak chilling in 1998, eliminating $3 million in additional electric costs for the university over the last decade.
  • Using a steam turbine to produce electricity. UC uses steam to heat, humidify and sterilize environments, like research spaces which require careful environmental controls. With a steam turbine, to be put in place within a year, UC will be able to reuse steam twice over. Steam first used to heat, humidify or sterilize an environment will now be recaptured to power a steam turbine. This will economically produce additional electricity – about 800 kW worth, which is enough to furnish the electric needs of 700 homes for a year’s time. The turbine, to cost $1.2 million, could last as long as 40 years but will have a payback time of about six years.
  • Adding a heat pump that will recapture waste heat generated from the air conditioning needs of the Center for Academic Research Excellence (CARE)-Crawley Building on UC’s East Campus. (Think of the hot air that blows from your home air conditioning unit when it is in use.) The new heat pump, to be put in place within a year at a cost of $1.3 million, will recapture the hot air generated by air conditioning to generate hot water for the building. The new pump, which could last as long as 40 years, has a payback time of three years.
  • Various improvements coming in the next year to UC’s East Campus Utility Plant will cost $1.7 million but will have an almost immediate (and ongoing) payback of $1.5 million in annual savings. These enhancements include adding an ash-removal system as well as upgraded control optimization, compressed air system, heat recovery and condenser water piping.
  • For the past year-and-a-half, UC has – in part – replaced the traditional city water currently used for cooling with a closed-loop cooling system, meaning a reuse of water and a reduction in UC’s use of local water supplies by nine million gallons. Installation of that first closed-loop system came to a one-time cost of about $20,00 but now saves the university $42,000 per year, meaning a payback period of about six months. Two more closed-loop cooling systems will be put in place in about six months, meaning greater amounts of water reuse, further reducing the university’s city-water needs in the long term.
  • Steam-valve insulation is being added throughout the campus utility system. Nearly 2,000 removable, reusable insulation covers will cap valves, and so, will retain heat at 350 degrees. These covers will cost about $300,000 but will reduce energy costs by nearly $500,000 per year, thus having an almost immediate payback. The covers save energy and costs because the covered valves, located within room walls and in maintenance closets, will not heat rooms during the summer – rooms that then require extra cooling. In addition, covering the valves means less energy loss along the conduits from UC’s utility plant to the various buildings of the Uptown campus.

 

All of these efforts add up to significant energy and environmental savings. To better track all of its energy costs, UC – like other universities across the state – is entering energy-related information into a statewide database, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager. Information on that database will be publicly available at the end of February 2009.

UC is well on track to meet the goals set out by Ohio House of Representatives Bill 251, which was passed in January 2006. It asks Ohio’s public universities to reduce energy costs by 20 percent by 2014. Since UC began more aggressive energy-saving efforts even before that bill was passed, the university is very close to meeting that ten-year goal ahead of schedule.

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