During the 2012 winter break, the College reduced its energy use by 18 percent, saving $28,500 by lowering temperatures in buildings and eliminating unnecessary electricity usage. The average daily energy consumption during the month of December dropped from 1173 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) to 962 million BTUs over the course of the 10-day partial shutdown of campus. With an electric bill of $178,628 and heat bill of $311,819 for the month, the College’s total energy costs for December 2012 clocked in at $490,447.
Since 2009, the inaugural year of the winter break shutdown efforts, the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives and the Facilities department at the College have been collaborating to eliminate any excess energy spending during times of lower occupancy on campus. These efforts drastically reduce electrical and natural gas output, usage of no. 2 fuel oil and water consumption. Because there are fewer buildings to maintain during this break, the Facilities staff goes on vacation during winter shutdown.
Labs and professors’ offices, which account for roughly 30 percent of campus, are kept open for research projects over winter break. “We’ve gradually kept more of the buildings open and reasonably comfortable over the break,” Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center, said. “Our savings aren’t quite as much, but since we’re also making technical improvements in those buildings, even though they’re open, they don’t use as much energy.”
In unoccupied spaces, normal heating settings are lowered by eight to 13 degrees. “Where we can, we lower heating set points from 68 to 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and shut down Air Handling Units, which supply heat and ventilation to classroom and lab spaces,” Donald Clark, utilities program manager, said.
Unfortunately, buildings and facilities sometimes sustain damage when the electricity is cut off. “We have had some freeze-ups occur during these shutdowns when no one is here to notice colder than normal temperatures in rooms,” Clark said. “This can lead to frozen heating or plumbing water pipes which break and cause damage. That’s the risk you take when you don’t have people in your buildings all the time.”
Though these types of complications are undesirable, they help the College improve its energy conservation strategies. “When we kind of push the buildings to their limits, we can see that there’s issues that we can then fix,” Boyd said.
These energy-savings efforts over winter break play into the College’s campus-wide campaign for environmental friendliness. Current annual savings from conservation efforts total $1.66 million per year. “This is the bigger story to us,” Boyd said.