Global EngagementUC HomeAbout UCUC AcademicsUC AdmissionsUC AthleticsUC GlobalUC HealthUC LibrariesUC ResearchNews


From Bikes to Buildings, UC Saves Energy and Saves Millions

Year after year, UC pursues energy- and money-saving efforts. Overall, in the last five years, the university has avoided about $13 million in energy costs thanks to conservation and other efforts.

Date: 4/19/2010 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot   From bicycles to buildings, the University of Cincinnati is focusing on saving energy and also saving money on the Uptown campus.

Over the past five years, the university has reduced energy consumption by at least 13 percent in the academic buildings on its Uptown campus, avoiding about $13 million in energy-related costs. (Annual costs to meet the energy needs of the almost 15-million square feet that comprise UC’s Uptown campus is about $30 million.)
Steam room in UC's power plant.

Leading UC’s energy-conservation efforts are Mary Beth McGrew, university architect, in collaboration with Ken Bloomer, director of facilities management; Joe Harrell, executive director of utility services; Pete Luken, senior project manager; and Kit Pearson, assistant vice president and university engineer.


While buildings remain the planet’s hungriest energy eaters and UC is focusing on upgrading and retrofitting older buildings on campus, other energy-saving efforts are underway or are in the planning stages.

These include

  • The start of the Bearcats Bike Share Program open to students, staff and faculty. The university community can borrow a bike in order to attend meetings or even go to a nearby off-campus store. “With the program, faculty and staff don’t need to drive back and forth from the Uptown campus to the medical campus. Students can choose another option for errands. I know I’ll be using the bikes to go to meetings,” said McGrew.
  • A four-million-gallon thermal-energy storage tank, measuring about 160 feet long, will be placed about 30 feet below the new Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex half field. It will chill water via electricity at night, when unit costs for electricity are less expensive, for reuse in the heat of the day when the chilled water provides cooling for campus buildings. The project – to cost about $5 million – will save the university between $400,000 to $500,000 per year, to then be used to recoup project costs, while also reducing peak electric demand by about 4,500 kiloWatts (kW). 
  • New occupancy sensors in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).
  • An upcoming energy audit in UC’s Campus Recreation Center and the placement of LED lights over the Olympic-size lap pool.

These most-recent efforts are a continuation of a quarter century of energy-reduction initiatives. 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. As UC moves forward with energy-efficient efforts and building renovations, it’s expected that the energy “payback” for any efficiency project will range from 1 to 15 years.

Standard means for saving energy are always in use at UC. These include

  • Changing room-temperature settings: Higher cooling set points in the summer and lower heating set points in 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 incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones.


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.

Last year, building-related energy and economy efforts at UC were completed. These include

  • Occupancy sensors in Baldwin Hall that will have a three- to five-year payback time.
  • Replacement of 400 incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones in Zimmer Hall, as well as bulb replacement in Teachers College/Dyer Hall, both projects also with a three- to five-year payback time.
  • Replacement of McMicken Hall’s 1948 heating system, along with an electrical upgrade in the building. The replacement of the 61-year-old steam system, which had regularly caused burst pipes, will cut the building’s energy use in half and will save an estimated $55,000 per year in energy costs.

Ongoing or upcoming building upgrades are focused on necessary updating to the oldest, most strategic basic-science education and research facilities in order to meet current and future academic priorities while also meeting energy and environmental goals. Ongoing projects include

  • Renovations within Rieveschl Hall’s 400- , 500-, 600- and 700-level labs, dating back to the 1970s, is now underway and will cost a total of $15 million. Ventilation-system upgrades as well as mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting and lab utilities are part of the overall renovation to be complete in 2011. These systems will reduce energy use by up to 70 percent, saving up to $500,000 annually.


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. The plants are always updating operations to increase efficiency and save on energy. Efforts include
Power plant image

  • 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 day. UC began practicing off-peak chilling in 1998, eliminating more than $3 million in additional electrical 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 now in place, UC is 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, which 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 Excellent (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, which cost about $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.
  • The installation of a closed-loop cooling system is now underway. These closed loops replace the traditional city water previously used for cooling. This means water reuse and a reduction of UC’s use of local water supplies by nine million gallons. In all, three closed-loop cooling systems are being installed. Each cost about $20,000, but each then saves the university $42,000 per year, meaning a payback period of about six months.

UC is well on track to meet the goals set out by the Ohio House of Representatives Bill 25, which was passed in January 2006. It asks Ohio’s public universities to reduce energy costs by 20 percent by 2014.