Campus & Community

Energy conservation program helps offset rising costs

5 min read

New manager hired, focus on making buildings efficient

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has embarked on an intensive campaign to wring energy savings out of both its buildings and its budget, hiring an outside manager to oversee what one energy administrator called its “most aggressive” campaign to date.

'Scream' energy
Illustration by Jeremy Singer-Vine ’08

“I’ve been involved in most of the energy programs here. This is the most aggressive and comprehensive,” said Jay Phillips, FAS’s director of building infrastructure and operations.

The FAS is enhancing existing efforts and taking a multipronged approach to the problem, seeking both concrete steps, such as improved building controls, and awareness campaigns to influence behavior.

In October 2005, FAS hired a manager from Siemens Building Technologies, Chris Trent, to work full time to monitor and suggest improvements to FAS’s many buildings. By closely monitoring energy performance at each building, something that Phillips said hasn’t been done before, Trent can see trends, meet with building managers, and suggest improvements, such as different on and off times for automated building controls.

Steve Robichaud, FAS manager of building systems, has worked closely with Siemens to provide tighter controls for buildings with direct digital controls.

“Through the use of our building systems we’ve managed to cut our energy costs by raising and lowering temperature set points and turning equipment on and off via the Siemens SSTO (Start/Stop Time Optimization) program,” Robichaud said. SSTO is a program that looks at indoor and outdoor temperatures and calculates the best time to start and stop heating, ventilation and air conditoning equipment. It performs a daily self-evaluation and makes adjustments to improve the equipment start up the following day.

Within the first six to eight months, the savings have paid for the program’s cost two to three times over, Phillips said.

While savings have been substantial, the overall cost of energy to FAS is rising, largely reflecting a 40 percent increase in the cost of utilities over the past year. The increased rates for electricity, steam for heating, and chilled water for cooling increased FAS’s energy bill by $7 million last year, Phillips said. Conservation programs offset that by about $1.5 million, he said, a significant amount, but just part of the steep increase.

A significant percentage of these projects were financed through the Green Campus Loan Fund, an interest-free revolving loan fund made available for this purpose. Over 20 FAS projects were financed with more than $1 million in loans in the past year alone. The return on investment has averaged less than three years.

If there’s a silver lining in the increased energy costs, Trent said, it’s that they convinced many people of the need to conserve.

“The 40 percent increase helped in the sense that it got everyone’s attention,” Trent said.

“One of the most important factors in any program is buy-in,” Phillips added. “We got it this time around.”

Larry McNeil, FAS’s manager of mechanical and structural maintenance, said that efforts have also been focused on renovating kitchens in the dormitories. Because kitchens use a lot of energy, more efficient systems can harvest considerable savings. Smart fume hoods, for example, can tell whether one hamburger or a grill full of food is being cooked, and adjust the airflow automatically. That not only saves the electricity used to run the fans, it also saves building heat in the winter months that would otherwise be vented with the cooking smoke. Five kitchens were overhauled this summer, McNeil said. Harvard University Dining Services worked in partnership with the Harvard Green Campus Initiative to make one of these kitchens the first commercial kitchen in the country to achieve LEED certification, a rigorous green building certification.

With about half of FAS’s square footage not controlled by automated heating and air-conditioning systems, behavioral change of faculty, staff, and students is a critical part of the campaign.

FAS has embarked on several programs to convince people to reduce their energy consumption, such as a 10-building energy reduction competition that kicks off this month and ends Feb. 20, 2007.

FAS has also begun an Eco-Citizens Program, where staff and students in different buildings will help run educational campaigns, serve as contacts for conservation questions, and help coordinate interbuilding energy saving competitions. One such competition will be running in 11 FAS buildings from Sept. 20 to March 20. The building that reduces its energy load by the largest percentage will win a technical upgrade that will further reduce its resource consumption.

The FAS’s third annual CERtoon competition (for Campus Energy Reduction cartoon), on display now in the Freshman Dean’s Office, got students to put their ideas for energy-saving slogans and art on paper. The competition drew 138 entries. The 15 selected as winners will continue to be displayed on campus at sites including the Holyoke Center, the Center for Government and International Studies, the Freshman Dean’s Office, and Hoffman Laboratories.

Efforts to get people to shut off their computer screens also continue, as one departmental audit showed that if the number of computers that were on or on standby over the weekend or at nights were turned off completely, annual savings could be as large as $200,000.

“People think that in a place this large, their efforts don’t matter,” Phillips said. “We’d like to dispel that theory. Even though people live in a large institution, individual efforts matter.”

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