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UNH is a Model of Energy Management Among Colleges and Universities

Release Date: 10/03/2006
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

A group of engineering students at the University of New Hampshire set out this year to track energy demand in dormitories that had been retrofit with energy saving measures. Working with the support of school administrators and EPA, the students wanted to measure the efficiency of these dorms compared to typical dorms in the U.S. The outcome was remarkable: changes in design and operations in just the three dorms tracked had cut the school’s energy bill some $80,000 a year and prevented pollution equal to taking 100 vehicles off the road for a year.

This reduction in residential energy use is just one example of how UNH has cut its energy demand dramatically in the past 20 years. Using strategies that are now considered exemplary, UNH became a model for large institutions trying to protect the environment and reduce energy costs.

The key to the university’s success?

“First and foremost we had every level of the school involved, from teachers to students to high level administrators,” said Jim Dombrosk, energy manager for UNH. “Beyond that, we were committed to making the changes systematically and over time so that every decision made at the school would consider its effect on our energy footprint.”

In short, the school’s leaders agreed with Dombrosk that reducing the amount of energy used in the 5.25 million square feet of buildings on the 200-acre campus must involve all levels of the UNH community and must be a plan for the long haul. Any changes in technology had to be supported by a unified team of university leaders committed to an energy efficient campus. To that end, last year the president of the university established a campus-wide Energy Task Force.

Savings at UNH have come through such measures as automated building control systems, new lighting, motor replacements and energy education for staff, faculty and students. The university has earned national awards for its energy conservation efforts, which range from small retrofit projects to major power plants.

A proposed new lighting policy on campus exemplifies how various arms of the school work together. Over the next few years, UNH plans to replace its roughly 20,000 halogen or incandescent light bulbs with more efficient compact florescent or high intensity discharge lighting. These bulbs cost two to four times as much upfront, but they will last 10 times as long as the older bulbs and reduce labor costs associated with changing bulbs. Facilities personnel understood the labor savings and administrators recognized the long-term dollars savings. As a result, the school will spend an additional $50,000 to $100,000 to buy the bulbs but save five times that in the long run.

To ensure the savings continue to grow, the university requires that any renovations or new construction incorporate building standards that minimize energy use. Buildings being completely renovated in next few years will use 20 to 30 percent less energy than if they were designed to the state’s energy code.

Such small and large-scale changes in energy management save UNH about $4 million a year, and protect the environment, most pointedly, the earth’s atmosphere. The three dorms tracked by the students earned UNH the first ENERGY STAR designation for residence halls given by EPA to a college or university. Fewer than 3,000 buildings of any kind have received the label.

The energy analysis at the dorms stemmed from a visit by an EPA scientist to a chemical engineering class. Students worked with EPA’s on-line benchmarking tool and with staff to find that these dorms reduce emissions by an amount equal to burning more than 65,000 gallons of gasoline when compared to the average dorm.

This summer UNH was set to begin operating a combined heat and power plant that shifts the school from burning number 6 oil to a plant that runs mostly on natural gas. This new plant will save the school $20 million over the next 20 years. UNH is also looking at the feasibility of running the new power plant on methane piped from a nearby landfill.

A study by the U.S. Department of Energy ranked UNH in the top 5 percent of universities when it comes to energy conservation.

These energy achievements are blazing a trail for higher education across the country. When EPA officials talk to energy managers at colleges and universities across New England, they point to UNH as an example of what can be done and how to do it.

More information:

Energy issues in New England (epa.gov/region01/eco/energy/index.html)

ENERGY STAR suggestions to conserve energy and monitor your home's energy demand (energystar.gov)

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By Robert W. Varney
Regional Administrator
EPA New England Office

Editor's note: a high resolution of Robert Varney is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region1/about/images/bobvarney-hr.jpg