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W&L Energy Conservation Paying Dividends

Washington and Lee University’s emphasis on energy conservation continued to pay major dividends during the past calendar year, including a consistent reduction in energy usage by at least 20 percent each month.

That decrease was even greater during the summer, averaging almost 30 percent. “For the month of July, as an example, we avoided $57,455 in utility costs  just by changing how we do things on campus, and even more was saved with equipment upgrades,” said Jane Stewart, one of W&L’s two full-time energy specialists. “These savings came despite the fact that campus was much busier this past summer than in the base year against which the savings are compared, because we had hundreds of high school students here for the Virginia Governor’s Language Academies, and nearly every residence hall was full.”

The amount of energy saved since the inception of the Energy Education Program means the University avoided $766,309 in utility costs, according to Stewart. Those savings can also be expressed in the following terms:

  • A reduction of 64,664 MMBtu
  • A reduction of 5,365 metric tons of CO2
  • Energy savings equivalent to taking 963 passenger cars off the road for a year
  • Energy savings equivalent to 137,223 tree seedlings grown for 10 years

Washington and Lee had identified the need to lower its energy consumption prior to implementing the Energy Education Program in 2011.

“Since we first launched our ‘Five for Five’ energy project, designed to save $5 million in five years, our electric usage has been reduced by 23 percent and gas consumption by 27 percent, even while the campus space has increased by approximately 2.5 percent through new construction and remodeled facilities,” said Steve McAllister, Washington and Lee’s vice president for finance and treasurer.

While “Five for Five” projects focus on creating mechanical efficiencies and include such initiatives as the University’s solar-energy project, the work of Stewart and of Morris Trimmer, the other energy specialists, is a major factor in planning and behavior modification.

For instance, one major initiative in the last two years has been planning for campus shutdowns during vacation periods, when offices and residence halls are not fully in use.

“We just went through our second winter-break shutdown, and I think we saw significant improvements from the first year even as we changed our approach,” said Trimmer. “In the first year, Jane and I actually went into every space — residence hall rooms, fraternity and sorority house rooms, campus offices — to check that windows were closed and electric devices, including computers and refrigerators, were unplugged.

“When it came to the student rooms this time, we distributed printed checklists and asked students to indicate those things that they had done and to tape the completed checklist to the door. If we saw a checklist, we didn’t enter a room,” continued Trimmer. “Having to sit down and fill out the check list, then sign your name at the bottom makes you stop and focus on what you’re being asked to do. You can also see, when you walk down a hallway, that your peers are making that effort. Not only did this save us a lot of time, but we found that our students really did a good job of complying. Even in those cases where there was not a completed checklist on the door, they had usually done everything we asked.”

As Stewart and Trimmer have discovered, saving energy is a matter of careful planning and constant conversation with the people who live and work in the various spaces around campus.

During the winter break, for instance, the two energy specialists spent many hours carefully planning which rooms and buildings the students on athletic teams would be occupying when they returned for practices and games in the middle of the break. They also worked with custodial staff in buildings where there might be changes in the scheduled opening and closing times.

“One of the things that I was doing during the winter break was checking on new systems that have been installed in the Science Center for both air handling and lighting,” said Trimmer. “Not only do we want to be sure that the new controls are making the air-handling unit operate as expected, but we also need to work with custodians in the buildings to be sure that changes in the times that lights come on or go off do not have a negative impact on their work. There are a lot of small details to consider.”

The energy specialists monitor a sophisticated, online control system that allows them to look throughout the campus and determine, in real time, what the temperatures are in various spaces, what fans are running and generally how efficiently the systems are performing. By accessing that system from an iPad, they can compare what they see on the controls to what they experience in the spaces.

Among the many partners that Stewart and Trimmer have in their efforts are the Facilities Management personnel.

“We work regularly with the Systems Control Specialist, Andy Hamilton, to work through issues related to the digital controls,” said Stewart. “In addition to scheduling heat, lighting and ‘shutdowns’ of personal spaces like offices and dorm rooms, the winter break shutdown involved working with Facilities Management staff in managing the chiller plant and heating loop, shutting off domestic hot water heaters, cutting the gas off to the stoves in all the kitchens, including in every Greek House, turning down every single stand-alone boiler on campus and on and on.

“We identified those opportunities and did the planning and coordinating with the people who live and work in those spaces, but Facilities Managment staff physically executed a tremendous number of these things. Their cooperation in our efforts is critical to what we are able to accomplish.”

• Too Hot? Too Cold?

One of the most powerful methods the energy specialists use is conversation. “Simply stopping in an office and talking with the person who works there about what they’re experiencing and what we’re trying to do is our best tool,” said Trimmer.

As part of their ongoing audits of the campus, however, they communicate in a different manner — leaving a note to suggest what could have been shut down, or leaving a piece of chocolate in appreciation for turning off such equipment as computers and printers at night.

“That inspires conversations,” Trimmer said. “Those are small, simple things, but I think they inspire people’s actions and awareness. When people see Jane and me passing through the buildings and working on things, that also increases people’s interest and awareness.”

Stewart is quick to credit members of the W&L community for the improving numbers. “I have been amazed and gratified by how incredibly willing most people are to put forth an extra effort to try to conserve,” Stewart said. “During the breaks, in particular, people have been incredibly cooperative in their preparations. When you consider that it’s the end of a semester, when everyone is under a lot of stress, asking them to do one more thing is probably irritating. But they have been wonderfully receptive.”

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
(540) 458-8459