With 25,600 students, 110 graduate programs, and 60 undergraduate programs, Blacksburg, VA-based Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is the largest university in Virginia. One of the top research institutions in the country, Virginia Tech has a long history of putting knowledge to work. This honorable tradition is continuing in its many facilities as the school launches a comprehensive energy management program.
Founded as a land-grant college in 1872, Virginia Tech has long implemented energy conservation as part of its facilities construction and management. “We really are not beginning an energy conservation project here. We have had a long history of incorporating energy conservation; it is a part of doing business,” says Bill Elvey, assistant vice president for facilities at Virginia Tech.
With 100 buildings and an airport, Virginia Tech’s main campus stretches over 2,600 acres. The university also has surrounding campuses in Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke. Due to rising energy costs and the university’s recent rapid growth, the school saw the need to hire a campus energy manager to act as a team leader for the development and implementation of a university-wide energy management plan.
Living Off the Land
Back in 1901, Virginia Tech had a coal-fired power plant to generate steam and power for the campus’ needs. Much has changed for the university. In the last 20 years, the school has revved up its effort to save energy campus-wide and to take advantage of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Institutional Conservation Program (ICP) grants. Over $750,000 in grants for insulation, energy-efficient lighting, and other measures have been received.
Founded in 2001, Virginia Tech’s Consortium on Energy Restructuring (CER) – a group of faculty members and graduate students in engineering, business, and the social sciences – was formed to provide a forum for synergistic research and education across disparate fields of study. The CER is collaborating on a $470,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a small-scale generation facility.
Elvey hired Wilson Prichett as campus energy manager to initiate actions within Virginia Tech’s operations to reduce energy consumption. A certified energy manager and registered professional engineer, Prichett brings more than 30 years of experience in energy conservation, sustainable design, and facilities management to the university.
While working on his master’s degree from the University of Virginia, Prichett was inspired to switch to energy sciences because of the 1970s energy crisis. In the wake of that energy crisis, Prichett’s interest developed in solar energy and global warming.
In the late 1970s, Prichett worked on Capitol Hill for the Senate Committee on Science and Technology to help create the U.S. Department of Energy. Prichett later worked for a utility trade association, performing hundreds of renewable energy projects. From coconut shell-fueled diesel generators on Bora Bora to windmills along the West Coast of Australia, Prichett worked on a wide variety of energy projects.
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Prichett served as senior engineer and project manager at Knoxville, TN-based ASEGI Inc., a professional engineering/energy management consulting firm. Performing energy audits and conservation programs, this firm has collaborated with an impressive array of facilities, including military bases; 200 government buildings; over 2 million square feet of hospital buildings; and dozens of industrial plants, retail spaces, and office buildings.
Having performed more than 500 facility energy audits, Prichett has saved his clients $10 million per year in energy costs. Prichett also brings his extensive experience in renewable energy technologies and supplemental energy sources – including solar, wind, geothermal, small hydro, biomass, biogas, and fuel cells – to Virginia Tech.
The Next Crisis
The growing interest in environmental responsibility, energy conservation, and rising energy costs sparked Virginia Tech administration’s desire to have a unified energy management program. “I’ve always felt that any institution that spends as much money as this university does on utilities really needs to have a person whose full-time job it is to help the university manage that program,” says Elvey.
Virginia Tech’s organizational structure is decentralized. With more than 25,000 students and an additional 6,000 faculty and staff members, it is challenging to achieve a consensus. Yet within its self-governing infrastructure, Elvey encourages knowledgeable individuals to become engaged with energy conservation and emerging technologies. “We have a number of excellent resources across the university that we can draw upon, and the idea is to formulate a consensus of priorities as we move forward,” says Elvey.
“My official title is ‘campus energy manager,’ but I call myself the ‘campus energy pest’ because basically I have to get into everyone’s business,” says Wilson Prichett, campus energy manager, Virginia Tech. Hiring an energy manager at this crucial time gives the university the opportunity to focus a lot of its efforts relative to energy conservation. Adds Elvey, “There are a lot of things happening in the marketplace that really suggest that now is a good time to take our past efforts, refocus them, and take them to a higher level.”
Coal, oil, and natural gas prices have tripled in recent years. In addition to fuel price increases, the school is positioning itself to take advantage of the upcoming deregulation of the region’s electrical supply business. Virginia Tech’s contract with its local energy supplier, Appalachian Electric Power (AEP), expires in July 2007. The school administration intends to better position itself by driving down its energy consumption and developing additional electric power-generating capacity. Despite the school’s plans to construct several new research facilities, Virginia Tech is also committed to avoiding a significant increase in purchasing energy.
To accomplish this tremendous energy-saving goal, the university established a campus energy committee under the vice president for business affairs. Prichett serves as the 2005 chair of the committee, which includes representatives from the physical plant; utilities; capital design and construction; electric service; the office of the architect; environment, health, and safety services; faculty; and student government.
Last year, this new committee drafted its charter and bylaws. After several informal meetings, the committee’s first meeting occurred in February. To encourage involvement, Virginia Tech has hosted several seminars covering the school’s energy plans and an educational energy exhibit has traveled around the campus. Prichett has also given presentations to explain the school’s energy conservation progress. “We are definitely getting the word out,” he says.
Shrinking its Footprints
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do:” This has become Prichett’s personal motto when collaborating with the university’s numerous factions. As the campus energy manager, Prichett attends the meetings of different groups to listen to their needs, offer suggestions, and develop a true picture of the university. As a consensus-builder, Prichett delves into every physical aspect of the university. “I have to get into the power plant and see if everything is being done as efficiently as possible. I [oversee] our procurement of utilities to make sure we’re getting the best price we can, [that] we are renovating buildings using energy-efficient specifications, and [that] we’re building buildings that are energy efficient,” says Prichett.
For example, Prichett recommends replacing the school’s traditional magnetic ballasts with electronic ballasts for fluorescent lamps for quick paybacks in energy savings and long-term benefits. The move from older-technology incandescent lamps will also result in lower maintenance costs and lower cooling requirements.
Prichett is also recommending the university build a biomass power plant for future energy needs. Instead of burning fossil fuels for heating and cooling, a biomass plant draws on local agricultural waste for heating, cooling, and electrical resources. This proposed plant would also provide increased reliability of power supply to the Virginia Tech campus. By using performance contracts, the school could build the facility without capital expenditures.
Unifying energy management duties makes good business sense on large campuses. Along with plans to renegotiate its electrical contract with AEP, the university has completed a commodities purchase of natural gas. Minimizing water, coal, and fuel oil prices are also important concerns.
In addition to closely managing fuel prices to prevent escalating costs, the university is investigating greater efficiencies in lamps, lighting controls, mechanical systems, and the building envelope. Attic insulation has been added to several educational buildings. Quaint yet drafty casement windows in all of the residence halls have been replaced with thermal pane windows. And over 100 buildings have received sensors and controls so that their HVAC systems, including chilled water and steam plants, can be remotely monitored.
Other energy conservation efforts through-out Virginia Tech include:
Replacing manual steam valves on radiators with automatic thermostatic radiator valves.
Replacing inefficient cooling systems with connections to the more efficient central chilled water system.
Rebuilding several greenhouses for more efficiency.
Repairing/replacing all malfunctioning steam traps.
Replacing more than 1 million square feet of asphalt roofing material with a higher R-value rubber membrane over urethane insulation.
Upgrading boilers to reduce emissions and boost fuel efficiency.
Reinsulating the entire steam line system.
Installing variable speed drives on the chilled water plant pumps.
Replacing oversized individual boilers with smaller, more efficient boilers in some facilities.
Because of the university’s conservation efforts, the energy usage footprint (BTUs per square foot) on the campus is gradually declining. This decline is occurring despite the school’s rising student enrollment and the number of older buildings on campus.
Along with the university’s own ongoing energy-saving program, the school is gearing up to use Energy Performance Contracting Services (EPCS). The Commonwealth of Virginia has an EPCS program to make it easier for state entities to navigate the energy procurement process. The commonwealth has preselected a group of energy service companies (ESCOs). Instead of a cumbersome procurement process, Virginia Tech can simply select three ESCOs, receive proposals, evaluate these proposals, and pick the appropriate ESCO for its needs.
While Virginia Tech’s unified energy management program is in its early stages, this endeavor already has a bright future. Energy managers need to understand how their colleagues’ departments operate and then figure out how to make these departments more energy efficient. To accomplish this goal, Prichett is focusing on education and communication. “I always approach my job with the attitude that these people have been here for a long time. They know the place, and what they have to tell me is valuable,” he explains.
Virginia Tech’s motto is “Ut Prosim,” which means “That I May Serve.” This land-grant college’s mission is embodied by that motto, relying on instruction, research, public service, and outreach activities to solve the problems of society. Dating back to its forebears, Virginia Tech has a tradition of independence and conservation. Instead of being tethered to a reactive mode, the university facilities management department takes a holistic approach to its campus needs.
By focusing on advanced technologies and energy conservation, the university is showing its commitment to environmental responsibility. And in creating the position of an energy manager on campus and elevating its conservation efforts, Virginia Tech will continue to distinguish itself as a technology leader.
Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.
Ever Wonder What an Energy Manager Does?
Here’s a breakdown of Virginia Tech’s campus energy manager’s duties:
Ongoing review of renovation plans.
Ongoing review of capital design projects.
Managing water savings survey.
Preparing proposals for controls upgrades.
Coordinating with maintenance reserve requests.
Serving as temporary chairman of energy committee.
Coordinating with the university architect’s office regarding Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification issues.
Participating in university design guideline upgrades.
Participating in power plant request for proposal (RFP)/study.
Coordinating with university resources in bio energy conversion for power plant.
Completing maintenance complex energy audits.
Preparing RFP for lighting services.
Researching/maintaining university “success stories” library.
Investigating numerous technologies (e.g. waterless urinals, photovoltaic roofs, microturbines).
Preparing special projects proposals (e.g. steam line insulation, dormitory control).
Coordinating chilled water optimization study.
Leading discussions concerning outdoor lighting and peak-demand reduction issues.
Leading experimental T5 lighting project.
Leading experimental daylight harvesting project.
Coordinating with physical plant on white roof initiative.
Managing energy exhibit.
Negotiating natural gas contract.
Coordinating campus utility maps.
Tracking campus utilities.
Acquiring affordable, state-of-the-art energy software.
Monitoring major energy trade journals.
Preparing Energy Service Performance Contracting solicitations for lighting and controls.
Coordinating outdoor lighting issues.