How To Clip Soaring Energy Costs

Colleges and universities are dealing with soaring energy costs by using less energy and generating their own energy. California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham offer examples of each approach.

Cutting Energy Use At CSULB

Thanks to the California energy crisis of 2000-01, a number of Golden State colleges and universities were forced to reduce energy use. CSULB, for example, executed an energy-use reduction strategy that preserved contractual energy discounts and avoided penalties in the face of curtailment demands from its energy supplier.

Back in 1990, CSULB had cut a deal with its utility company to purchase energy at a discount. In return, the university agreed to reduce its energy use when the utility faced unusually high demands. Failure to curtail energy use on demand would eliminate the discount on all energy used by the university and activate steep penalties.

The agreement provided CSULB with a decade of cheap energy and few curtailments. The utility demanded no more than one or two curtailments per year for 10 years. All were short-lived and easy to satisfy.

In the 2000-01school year, things would change. The California energy crisis would generate 31 lengthy curtailment orders during the year. Tim Ball, associate director of Facility Management at CSULB, saw problems coming and took action in 2000. With 35,000 students using 87 buildings that encompass 3.8 million sq. ft. of conditioned space, Ball set out to find a way to satisfy curtailment orders without compromising energy availability for the university community. The university could not afford to lose its discounted energy rate and pay hefty penalties for failing to meet curtailment demand promptly.

Ball asked Spokane, Wash.-based Itron, Inc., a company that provides energy management consulting and services, for help. Itron supplied an Enterprise Energy Management (EEM) system that collects data about energy use from utility meters, databases, building control systems and other energy-related technologies.

CSULB’s common building controls system offered more than 99,000 data points to Itron’s EEM system. Itron integrated EEM to capture energy data in 15-minute intervals from each of these points. The data collection system allowed the facility management department to monitor, verify, analyze, profile and benchmark its energy and procurement operations.

When installation was completed in August of 2000, Ball benchmarked energy requirements for all 87 buildings on campus and developed a campuswide load reduction plan that could meet curtailments that might be ordered under the university’s utility contracts.

“You identify savings by identifying inefficiencies,” says Tim Berson, a solution consultant with Itron’s EEM Group and a member of the team that worked on the CSULB project.“And you identify inefficiencies by making comparisons. This is what EEM enables facility managers to do.”

EEM can compare energy use across similar buildings. If one building uses more electricity than a second, it might indicate inefficiencies in the first building. EEM can also compare energy use in one building through time. Suppose an EEM compared energy use in a building during December through 10 years. If the comparison showed current use rising above historical trends, it could indicate inefficiencies that should be addressed.

“You can also compare expected usage with actual usage,” adds Berson.“By using expected usage as a baseline, you would know to look for inefficiencies when actual usage rises above what is expected.”

With one or all of these comparisons in hand, facility directors can pinpoint inefficiencies and eliminate them through operating changes or equipment upgrades. “You can make operating changes by setting new schedules or operating points for systems,” says Berson. “Instead of cooling a building to 72°F, you might change the setting to 75°F. Instead of turning on the heat at 5:00 a.m., you might turn it on at 7:00 a.m.

“Second, you can retrofit a building system by installing a more efficient air conditioning system, tighter windows, new lighting fixtures or other more efficient systems.”

In operation for several years now, the CSULB system has proven extremely effective. Since turning the system on in 2000, the campus population has grown by 28 percent. Occupied building space has expanded by 200,000 sq. ft. Despite the dramatic growth, the EEM system has helped hold total electricity consumption constant at the 2000 level of 50,000,000 kWh.

Making Energy at UNH

Colleges and universities can also make their own energy. “We think that schools should look at cogeneration,” says Gene Martin, president of EMCOR Energy Services, Inc., of Norwalk, Conn. “Many universities operate on campus settings equipped with large district cooling and heating loops. This lends itself to cogeneration applications that use commercially proven technologies to produce electricity and thermal energy heat from a single fuel source.”

UNH is a case in point. When the university outstripped its boiler capacity, it found that its options for expanding the existing system were constrained by budget cuts. UNH turned to EMCOR for a new $28-million cogeneration plant, slated for completion by the end of 2005. The plant will generate electricity with a 7.5-MW combustion turbine capable of accepting a second turbine in the future, if expansion becomes necessary. The project also includes a 1,200-ton chilled water plant to accommodate the growing campus requirements. According to Allan E. Braun, Jr., UNH’s assistant vice president for Facilities, “The facility will provide 90 percent of our electrical needs and 95 percent of heating needs in its first year of operation.”