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Energy efficiency program paying off as prices rise

Skyrocketing natural gas and electricity costs are increasing the value and importance of state-of-the-art energy savings programs that Miami first began implementing more than a decade ago.

Even with this ongoing effort, Miami is budgeted to spend about $18.2 million this fiscal year on energy costs, according to Jim Haley, associate vice president of facilities. But without the efficiency programs, that amount could easily exceed $23 million.

That's an estimated $4.8 million in savings in one year, a total that demonstrates the importance of the university's ongoing conservation efforts, says Haley. In fact, he notes that nationwide, increasing energy costs now rival health insurance for inflationary pressures on university budgets.

The university's efforts don't look at any one source of energy in isolation, but rather take a comprehensive view of how the university's use of electricity, steam heat, the chilled water loop, natural gas, fuel oil and propane are intertwined and how changes in one system affect other systems, explains Haley.

The goal is to embrace best practices that are friendly to the environment while helping the university's bottom line.

Here's a sampling of the various programs that have helped the university cut back on its energy appetite and its energy costs:

• Improving steam plant efficiency. In 2000 Miami completed a $1 million upgrade in emission controls to limit air pollution from coal usage that allowed the steam plant to burn coal as well as natural gas. The project has already saved $12 million in the four-year period that ended June 30, 2005, and even more savings are anticipated with increasing natural gas prices.

• Changing the utility model on campus so that auxiliary managers see a direct connection between use and cost. Previously, utility costs were allocated on the basis of square footage. There was no incentive to hold down heating costs. Now, with the new utility model, savings on utilities go back into the auxiliary budgets, rather than going back proportionally to everyone's budget.

“Under the old model we paid for utilities based on a per square foot allocation across all the budgeted accounts. There was no connection between what a budget was charged and what was used. And what that leads to is, for example, modifying the temperature in a building during the winter by opening the windows rather than maintaining the heating system properly. Having a direct connection between use and cost means that the leadership has an incentive to save money on utility bills, which can in turn be used for maintaining the systems,” said Haley.

This new budgetary model went hand-in-hand with the metering of all buildings, which has helped building managers and occupants be more aware of how much energy they are using.

• Upgrading lighting and changing constant speed motors to more energy efficient variable frequency drive motors. Beginning in 2000, Miami began retrofitting lighting fixtures (installing new ballasts and using energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs). Upgrades on motors for air conditioning systems and the chilled water loop have lessened the amount of power needed to operate those systems.

Since 1999, Miami has spent about $1.4 million on the lighting project and motor upgrades and is reaping savings of about $300,000 annually. In September of 2006, the university will have recovered the entire cost of the project and the $300,000 annual savings will be what Haley describes as “true savings.”

The joint lighting/motor upgrading has had dramatic impacts on individual buildings. For example, the annual cost of electricity in Laws Hall dropped from $41,060 to $22,590 and Bachelor Hall dropped from $71,354 to $32,825.

While many of the university's energy saving projects are high tech, anyone can switch to compact fluorescent bulbs and save on electricity costs, says Haley.

• Installing infrared sensing plumbing fixtures. In addition to evaluating energy usage, the university also looks at ways to conserve water. An ongoing priority has been to limit the amount of water used by installing infrared sensors on university faucets and sinks.

• Sponsoring programs such as this fall's energy fair that provide information to students, faculty and staff on what they can do to save energy.

• Upgrading windows. Since the mid-1990s, Miami has been replacing older windows with more energy efficient thermal windows whenever building renovations occur.

“In every building design - whether it's a renovation or new construction - we look at energy efficiency and environmental sustainability,” says Haley. “It's not just energy usage. For example, all the carpet we buy must be recyclable. Sometimes we pay a little extra, but it's an environmentally friendly policy. It represents good stewardship and social responsibility.”

Date Published: 11/17/2005
Volume: 25   Number: 16

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