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Energy use at Ohio University has increased in past five years

Energy consumption at Ohio University has increased in the past year, but many factors outside the university’s control can affect those rates.

The costs of operations can increase drastically if the weather is extreme, even if conservation efforts are in place, Stephen Wood, chief facilities officer, said.

“There are just some things that can happen with nature that can really impact us,” Wood said. “Our highest energy use is when weather-related impacts hit while the student population is here and all the dorms are occupied.”

Electricity consumption has increased by about 2 percent, and natural gas consumption at the central university plant has increased by about 9.15 percent from 2017 to 2018. Water is the only utility that has decreased, dropping by 2.26 percent.

The university has its own energy plant and uses Columbia Gas of Ohio to distribute the energy. The water is distributed by the City of Athens. AEP Ohio provides electricity, Joel Baetens, the director of utilities for OU Facilities Management & Safety, said.

Wood said he and his team estimate amounts of gas and electricity each year in order to cover the coldest days.

OU Facilities Management presents its data each August to the Board of Trustees. That annual report discusses progresses made in “efficiencies and cost effectiveness,” according to the August 2018 Board of Trustees meeting minutes.

Facilities Management also anticipates the weather based on past averages, Wood said.

“There is data out there available to us that says ‘a typical year has this many heating degree days and cooling degree days,’ which means the number of days above or below average for the heating season and the cooling season,” he said.

Baetens takes that information and normalizes OU’s consumption based on a typical year, Wood said. 

“A peak from last summer, depending on how much energy we used at that coincidental peak five days, affects our transmission costs for the following year,” Wood said.

While those factors are uncontrollable, Facilities Management works to create more energy-efficient buildings on OU’s campus.

According to the August 2018 meeting minutes, OU’s “STARS” rating remained at the silver level, increasing by approximately 9 points to 63.29. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System is a measure of energy efficiency sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The STARS system has five levels: platinum, gold, silver, bronze and green. Gold level can be reached at 65 points.

On the capital construction side, any project over $2 million, we are attaining at least (high silver rating) buildings, and those are more efficient buildings to operate,” Wood said. “So, when we completed Ellis (Hall), we went from a (low rating) building to competing for (a high silver rating) now that it has been renovated.”

The new systems implemented in the renovated buildings are more energy efficient, Wood said.

“So, it would be like turning in a 2002 car and buying a similar 2018 model,” Wood said. “It is most likely going to be more energy efficient than it was 12 to 14 years ago.”

In 2015, OU transitioned away from burning coal, Baetens said.

“The last time that we burned coal was Thanksgiving of 2015,” he said. “We were pretty far into the transition away from coal and into natural gas boilers. We did a major conversion in our steam plant and so the last time we burnt coal was Nov. 15.”

Angela Luppino, a junior studying economics, noticed when she lived in the residence halls there were ways energy could be conserved.

Late at night, lights in the halls are still on, she said. Lights could be turned off at night or a low energy solution could be created. 

“The dorm I lived in, you weren’t able to control the heat,” she said. “So, not everyone wants the heat that high, which can cause a lot of waste.”


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