3 Strategies for Slashing Campus Energy Use

04/30/2020 | By Janelle Penny

The two largest universities participating in the Better Buildings Challenge achieved their goals recently. Michigan State University, which has 20 million square feet of building space, and the University of Utah, which has 17 million, are two of just 23 colleges and universities participating in the initiative.

The Better Buildings Challenge requires an energy use reduction of at least 20% by 2020. Both exceeded that goal with a combination of strategic upgrades and smart technologies. Here are three strategies that helped the two schools excel in energy savings.

The University of Utah surpassed its Better Buildings Challenge goals by an extra 5%, achieving energy savings of 25% across 17 million square feet of space.

1. Smart Controls and Analytics

The University of Utah drew on a wide range of low-cost tools to reduce energy use in its 280-plus buildings. Three of their key controls strategies included:

Zonal scheduling: Smarter zoning practices allowed buildings’ mechanical equipment to keep serving small zones with critical needs (for example, lab experiments and classrooms) but minimize waste in other areas.

Controls optimization: The University of Utah team targeted air ducts, pumps and HVAC. Real-time sensor feedback directed conditioning where it needed to go with the least possible energy use and equipment wear.

Data analytics: The Sustainability & Energy team in the Facilities Management department used analytics to identify failed equipment. Catching equipment that has either failed or is about to is a great way to find energy waste and understand which pieces of equipment need maintenance, repairs or replacement.

2. Audits and Targeted Upgrades

Both schools conducted careful assessments and energy audits of campus buildings to determine where upgrades would be most impactful. Michigan State University used the audit results to identify the buildings with the highest energy consumption across its 20 million square feet. The structures received improved insulation, LED lighting, more efficient building environmental systems and better steam distribution, depending on their needs.

The University of Utah also carried out major upgrades to lighting and HVAC in several key locations.

[Related: How Atlanta Conquered Its Better Buildings Challenge Goals Two Years Early]

3. Renewables and Less Impactful Fuels

The Better Buildings Challenge rewards lowered energy consumption, but both universities used the upgrade opportunities to increase their reliance on renewables.

Michigan State University focused on buildings with the highest energy consumption to achieve its 21% energy savings during the Better Buildings Challenge.Photo: Michigan State University focused on buildings with the highest energy consumption to achieve its 21% energy savings during the Better Buildings Challenge.

The University of Utah signed a 20-megawatt geothermal power purchase agreement, which started delivering power to campus in fall 2019. The university now receives 53.7% of its electricity from renewable energy and plans to increase that number to 71% by the end of 2021 with additional solar power purchase agreements.

MSU switched its power plant’s fuel source from coal to natural gas. It also installed solar arrays on 40 acres of its parking lots.

Both universities plan to continue looking for savings opportunities. MSU plans to add another 50,000 LED lighting fixtures over the next year, according to a press release, and has also committed to reducing the energy use in two of its data centers by 20% as a Better Buildings Challenge Data Center Partner.

The University of Utah is continuing to pursue a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. These commitments will ensure continued savings over the long haul.

Read Next: Facility Teams Get Swapped for Better Buildings Challenge

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