Power misers scour campus for ways to save energy
UCLA Energy Services staff create big savings by cutting energy use in rooms across campus.
By Alison Hewitt
Originally published in UCLA Today
Powering UCLA costs more than $50 million each year, so it's no wonder that David Johnson, director of Energy Services and Utilities, is always looking for ways to save energy.
That's why his energy manager, Robert Striff, is going from building to building, basically asking one question: What time do you leave work?
It's a simple formula. If they can turn off the air-conditioning and ventilation a little earlier in the evening, UCLA saves money.
"It's something we've always done to a certain extent, building by building," Striff said. "But now we're taking it one step further, going room by room, asking, 'When does the first person come in for the day? When does the last one leave?'"
Striff can't turn the AC off room-by-room, but most buildings have several separate zones, and Striff is finding which ones can be shut off early. Without his intervention, some of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, known as HVAC, would run all night, he said. Overnight HVAC shutdowns produce, on a smaller scale, the same savings UCLA reaps during the shutdowns that occur when 20 campus buildings power down their energy-intensive ventilation systems during 13 summer Sundays, some holiday weekends and over winter break last year's summer shutdown saved UCLA $200,000.
"Energy costs a lot of money, and reducing those costs has always been a goal, all the more so because of the current budget crisis," Johnson said. "The issue of sustainability has gotten many more people all over campus involved, because global warming is obviously a much broader issue than campus costs. It's wonderful, because the more people care, the more assistance we get."
The overnight shutdowns
Facilities Management expects shutting down HVAC overnight will pay off big time.
"It's impossible to estimate the savings right now," Striff said, "but financially, it will be more than worth our time. Not to mention it's the right thing to do. It's not just dollars. It's global warming. It's for the future. It's for our kids."
So far, overnight HVAC shutdowns have been completed in Facilities Management's main building and in Schoenberg, Franz and Knudsen halls. The effort is in progress in Macgowan Hall and will eventually cover many buildings on campus.
Health and building requirements prohibit Facilities from shutting down ventilation while people are in the area – no one would asphyxiate, but it would probably get uncomfortable, Johnson said. Some buildings will never be part of the program, such as the hospitals or buildings with live animals, volatile chemicals or food storage.
In buildings that are part of the program, the main difficulty is finding entire zones in each building that empty out early.
"Many systems are floor-wide or more," Johnson explained. "So one late worker, or worse, one room in need of 24-hour cooling for, say, computer servers, could require an entire building system to stay online. We end up cooling an entire building because there's one server in one room."
Efforts are underway to create centralized server rooms on campus, but "we're not there yet," Johnson said.
Turning off the heaters and cooling down hot water
Facilities is also rolling out other energy-saving programs, in line with UCLA's Climate Action Plan requiring the campus to reduce its energy use to 1990 levels by 2012.
On top of a long-standing program that replaces old lights with ever-more efficient ones and a massive ongoing project to retrofit old buildings with modern HVAC systems, many new buildings have been programmed to automatically power down their heaters when the weather is above 70 degrees.
"Otherwise, the heating systems stay warm, waiting to leap into action," Johnson said. "The heating may never come on, but the steam is running through the pipes in the building. It's an extra load on the steam system; not to mention the cooling system wastes energy reacting to the radiating heat."
That project, completed in July, led to other savings.
"People complained even on hot days that it got too cold – not because the heat was off, but because the air conditioning was running too hard," Johnson chuckled. "For years, their AC had been running too hard to compensate for the heat coming off the steam pipes. Now, we can reduce the amount of energy used to run the AC."
Facilities management also reduced the water temperature running to bathroom sinks in many buildings, completing that effort in July.
"Many buildings run the hot water to the restroom sinks at 120 degrees — that's too hot for hands to bear, so people run the cold water at the same time," Johnson said. "We're reducing it to 100 degrees, which is still fine for cleaning your hands, and it reduces the energy needed to heat the water."
Despite all of these efforts, they also rely on everyone on campus to help save energy, Johnson said. Staff, faculty and students play a big role when they remember to turn off lights and computers or report that the AC is running too cold or that outdoor lights are on during the day.
"The more involvement we have from campus, the more we can do," Johnson said. "We'd love members of campus to suggest changes that could improve energy savings."
Published: Saturday, August 15, 2009