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February 10, 2005

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New gauges on air conditioning units in University buildings are part of energy-efficiency program. (Staff photos Jon Chase/Harvard News Office)

Efficiency program saves money, energy

Rapid payback makes efficiency make sense

By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office

An energy-efficiency program in Harvard-managed buildings has University real estate managers smiling at savings of more than $700,000 annually.

Larry McNeil, senior facilities engineer with Harvard Real Estate Services' University and Commercial Operations Management, said the efficiency program is in its fourth year and has amassed savings that are hard to ignore.

The project, which has added insulation, installed new motors, variable speed drives, and controls, upgraded lighting, and improved boilers for heating and chillers for air conditioning, has cost the University $1.7 million so far. The improvements are expected to save $741,559 per year. Add to that an additional $613,646 in rebates from utility companies aimed to encourage efficiency programs, and the improvements will pay for themselves in less than two years, McNeil said.

"We can't control the cost of utilities, but we can control the use of utilities," McNeil said.

The University and Commercial Operations Management effort is part of a larger effort across the University aimed at taking advantage of rebates offered by utility companies to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

University and Commercial Operations oversees 80 buildings, largely office and commercial space, such as Holyoke Center and 1033 Massachusetts Ave., which houses the Harvard University Policy Department. It also manages buildings as diverse as the president's house, Wadsworth House, the Faculty Club, and the Memorial Church.


Though the program has already been successful, efficiency programs are continuing on other properties managed by the office. Upgrades can make a considerable difference. New control systems allow managers greater control over heating and cooling, allowing the temperature to be reduced in evenings and weekends and then warmed again during work hours when the building is occupied.

New heating systems can also make a dramatic difference. A building heating system installed in the early 1980s would run at between 78 and 81 percent efficiency, meaning that percentage is actually converted into heat, rather than lost through machinery and pipes. A similar heating system today runs at between 92 percent and 98 percent efficiency, meaning almost all the gas purchased to generate heat actually is used to heat the building.

McNeil said that though the changes weren't motivated specifically to improve Harvard's environmental performance, the energy efficiency they've produced has nonetheless made Harvard a bit greener.

McNeil said cutting the energy consumption for the affected buildings also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which many scientists believe are responsible for global warming. McNeil said the efficiencies are the equivalent of reducing emissions by 9,789,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

"We're cutting down on the emissions of greenhouse gases," McNeil said.

University and Commercial Operations is continuing to look for efficiencies, both in existing and newly constructed buildings. The new building at 90 Mount Auburn St., under construction now, will have a geothermal heating system. The geothermal system will use wells dug 1,000 feet down to bring up water that is at a constant 50-degree temperature year-round. That water will be used to heat the building in the winter, when the surrounding air is much colder, and to cool the building in the summer, when the surrounding air is much warmer.

McNeil said the Nieman Foundation building at 1 Francis Ave. already has a geothermal heating system, which is working so well that the backup heating system hasn't been needed.

Another upcoming project is at the Harvard Depository in Southborough, which houses books not in the University's many libraries. The facility has been selected by the utility company, Mass Electric/National Grid, for a "re-commissioning." The company will pay 80 percent to 90 percent of the cost of reviewing electrical, lighting, and heating and cooling systems to ensure they're working as designed. The upgrade is expected to result in 10 percent to 15 percent energy savings in the building.

Related stories:

  • EPA honors KSG, FAS for conservation efforts
    Computer efficiency initiatives get Energy Star Awards as part of Million Monitor Drive

  • Conservation fund doubles
    Will add $3 million for conservation projects

  • Energy-saving programs ask Harvard to go 'cold turkey'
    Turn off your computers for Thanksgiving

  • Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College