Small Changes Add Up

University of Utah's Energy Management Office produces big-time savings with adjustments to temperature and lighting.

Reducing energy use through nighttime heating, cooling, and lighting reductions isn't as high profile as installing photovoltaic panels or solar water heaters, but it is saving the U an average of $1 million per year.

The cost savings from these off-hour energy reductions are due in large part to the efforts of the Energy Management Office in Facilities Management. The office evaluates building occupancy levels every semester to determine when it can adjust lights and temperatures to reduce energy use without affecting students, faculty, and staff. Efforts to save money by turning off lights and adjusting the thermostat have increased during the past eight years, says Bianca Shama, resource conservation specialist in the Energy Management Office.

Adjustments to temperature are made gradually to ensure that they aren't set too high or too low for comfort levels, Bianca says. The temperature changes are not drastic, which is particularly important in the winter to avoid frozen pipes. The small shifts also allow for building temperatures to adjust quickly back to daytime settings. Adjustments vary from building to building, Bianca says, so there is no single nighttime temperature target. Adjusting the temperature is easier in newer buildings, which have programmable thermostats. Older buildings require more attention, she says.

Lighting adjustments are also easier in new buildings, which have motion sensors or timers that shut off lights. In older buildings, the university relies on the occupants to help reduce energy use. Facilities Management often partners with faculty and custodians to help turn off lights in shared spaces, such as hallways and conference rooms, Bianca says. All buildings also have emergency lighting that is on 24-7. Bianca has also worked closely with the Office of Sustainability, Dr. Carol Werner, and teams of service learning students on the "Lights Out in Empty Classrooms" conservation project, which was partially funded by the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF).

Bianca says it is important that after-hours energy reductions in buildings match the demands of its occupants. Ideally, occupants never even notice the changes. "Nothing gets turned off. We turn the fans back," she says. "Our main goal is occupants' comfort first, savings second. We want to guarantee that the efforts of students and faculty are not compromised by energy savings."

The efforts of the Energy Management Office show that little changes result in big savings, both in energy and cost.

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Ayrel Clark