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Energized for conservation

By Glenn Gilbert, Goshen College utilities manager

In 1990, Glenn Gilbert was serving as an electronics and computer technician at Goshen College when he was asked to design and oversee a computerized energy management system to be funded through a grant for energy conversation from the State of Indiana. Gilbert talked about the college’s past and current energy management practices during a campus convocation in the fall of 2005, and offered a “to do” list of activities for the rest of the 2005-06 academic year – some of which he has already undertaken – to further improve conservation efforts.

Each student and faculty and staff member can have an impact on our energy consumption. Energy conservation efforts are not new to campus, but our methods are considerably more sophisticated than in the early part of the college’s history.

Frugality dictated some of the early energy conservation measures on campus. For 40-some years, Goshen College’s first boiler plant was located in the southwest corner of the Administration Building. In the winters of the 1930s and ’40s, the boiler simply couldn’t keep up with supplying steam to all of the buildings, which at that time included Kulp and Coffman halls, the Science and Administration buildings and the library (now the Visual Arts Building) so heat was rotated among different buildings as needed to keep the system running. There are stories of science students at that time studying in 45-degree weather – that was the indoor temperature – and women in Kulp Hall waking up to find frozen washcloths on their towel racks and little piles of snow on their window sills.

As I have talked to Goshen alumni from that era, other significant differences in energy use between then and now have come to light. In the 1940s, it was common practice for the lights to be turned off, in both the men and women’s dormitories at 10:15 p.m. each night – quite a contrast to today’s alarm clocks, computers, stereos, refrigerators, video game systems and other items plugged in and in use all day and night. The 1950s and ’60s were years of rapid growth on campus, and utility systems were built to help keep pace. The boilers were moved to a new heating plant – to its present location by the railroad tracks, since coal was then delivered by rail. In the early 1960s, more than a million dollars was invested to create a buried electrical distribution system that allowed us to purchase energy through one high-voltage meter at a much-reduced rate. The foresight of that one decision saved the campus tens of millions of dollars in utility costs during the next 30 to 40 years.

In those years of significant campus development – when Kratz, Miller and Yoder Halls, Wyse Hall, the Union, Westlawn, Newcomer Center, the Church-Chapel and the Good Library were constructed – energy was cheap. Unfortunately, little thought was given to conservation measures when construction funds were limited. Lack of insulation and large single-pane windows meant that students living in Yoder Hall recall hanging blankets on the windows to keep the winter winds from blowing through the building.

During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, Goshen College began to give more thought to how we heated our buildings, and how we might conserve energy by lowering temperatures during night hours. The college diversified its heating sources – using not only coal in the boilers but also burning fuel oil or the up-and-coming energy source of choice, natural gas; by 1990, the campus stopped using coal altogether and today relies exclusively on gas.
 

ENERGY MANAGEMENT IN THE PALM OF HIS HAND

While most of Gilbert’s work requires on-site visits to work with energy management systems, he can check on room temperatures, energy set-backs and other energy data with a personal digital assistant (PDA).

Managing energy

In 1990, Goshen College applied for and received an energy conservation grant from the State of Indiana to implement the beginnings of a computerized energy management system on campus. Prior to that time, academic buildings were heated as if they were occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was not practical to shut down equipment or set back temperatures. If anything mechanical equipment failed in the middle of the night, like a boiler malfunction or a broken pump or fan, it most likely wouldn’t be noticed until a college employee came in the next morning.

The early management system was modest – making simple temperature setbacks based on time-of-day scheduling and adjusting the heating system based on outdoor air temperature. At first, only nine buildings had any computer controls or monitoring. Now, hundreds of small controllers spread around campus are networked to larger field cabinets linked via the campus fiber optic network to a server that controls and monitors literally thousands of points of information in every building on campus, including most of the off-campus small group houses.

Not only does the system stop and start equipment and setback temperatures at night; it also:
  • controls most of the outdoor lighting. GC operates over 50,000 watts of outdoor lighting, which costs about $4 per hour. By using the energy management system rather than a photocell to turn them on at dusk and off at dawn, the energy management system saves about to $4,400 annually without compromising safety.
  • maintains fresh air by monitoring carbon dioxide levels in Umble Center, Sauder Concert Hall and the Church-Chapel sanctuary and the library. When those spaces are empty or minimally occupied, air is efficiently recirculated; when carbon dioxide-producing people are present, the system responds and introduces the required fresh air.
  • measures indoor and outdoor enthalpy to provide “free cooling” with outdoor air in a number of buildings.
  • determines when heating systems should be shut down and air conditioning systems started up, based on outdoor conditions.
  • monitors steam pressure and sends an alarm if a boiler should fail.
  • monitors the campus electrical system, so a one-megawatt emergency generator can be started if needed.
  • monitors refrigerators and freezers in the cafeteria kitchens, and sends an electronic page to physical plant staff if the temperatures get out of range (this has saved thousands of dollars worth of food over the years).
  • detects moisture to anticipate floods in basements.
  • provides control and safety with temperature and humidity sensors located across the campus.
  • monitors air flow in fume hoods in the Science Building. Proper building and room pressurization is also maintained to ensure that fumes travel in the right direction.
  • stops and starts campus fountains. The height of the Music Center fountain is also controlled; an anemometer checks the wind speed and limits the height of the fountain on windy days.
  • sounds an alarm if the campus radio station goes silent. If the station goes silent for more than 60 seconds, a page is sent to the station engineer.
How have we been doing on energy consumption on our campus?
In very round numbers, our gas consumption has been quite respectable. In 1994, we used about 40,000 dekatherms or 40 billion BTU of natural gas. In 2004 we actually used 39,000 dekatherms – a decrease of a few percent – in spite of an increase of about 20 percent more building space including the high-energy requirements of the Music Center and Recreation-Fitness Center, and the more recent additions of the Connector and apartments.

 

TIMES (AND TEMPS) ARE A’CHANGIN’

As part of campus energy management, indoor building temperatures and fresh air cycles and outdoor lights are set on timers to save energy when spaces are not in use. In addition, most light switches have small reminders beneath them to show students, faculty and staff how many cents are saved when not in use.
However, our electrical consumption has increased almost 25 percent during that same 10-year period from 5,900 Megawatt-hours in 1994 to over 7,400 megawatt-hours in 2004. While the new buildings contribute to this increase, there has also been a significant rise in computer usage on campus as well as more air-conditioning and outdoor lighting. The average daily consumption of electricity last year was 20,330 kilowatt hours, costing $1,245.

We have all heard – and felt the personal impact – of the sharp spike in natural gas prices this year. For a college campus, the ramifications are considerable. As an example, in October 2004, the campus consumed 27,368 therms of electricity at a cost of $19,165; in October 2005, we consumed 3 percent less gas but it cost the college $35,564 – an 85 percent increase in cost! Electricity prices are also climbing as the utilities make fuel-cost adjustments.

As a response to the increased energy costs, Goshen College, like most other institutions, looked closely at how we used our energy and how we might be able to make cutbacks. Some institutions arbitrarily set back thermostats system-wide and imposed deep temperature setbacks at night. Because Goshen College had invested in computerized energy management over the years we were in a much better position to customize adjustments and tailor temperature settings so that energy could be saved without compromising comfort. Individual classrooms, labs and offices could have temperatures adjusted from hour to hour providing heat (or air-conditioning) only when the spaces are occupied. Computers can look at outdoor and indoor temperatures and anticipate how soon heating and air-conditioning needs to be started to bring a space to satisfactory temperatures at the time of occupancy. This enabled us to reduce our gas consumption between October and April by 18 percent below the 10-year average, in spite of the fact that we added the new apartment building.

Those of us who live and work here can make choices to both reduce our use of nonrenewable resources and help contain energy costs for the college. These measures also help us to be more thoughtful stewards of the earth God has created for us. We are already doing a lot of things well through the utilization of our control systems, and we will be working at further improvements through tighter scheduling of occupied spaces and other energy-saving automations. In addition to switching off unneeded lights, dialing down thermostats and using less air-conditioning, some of the other energy conservation measures we have taken recently, or are currently in progress, include:
  • lighting retrofits in the gymnasium and exercise areas of the Recreation-Fitness Center.
  • conversion to higher efficiency lighting throughout campus.
  • installation of variable frequency drives on circulator pumps and fans to reduce electrical consumption
  • improved ambient lighting controls to reduce the unnecessary lighting during daylight hours
  • installation of an automatic swimming pool cover, to reduce dehumidification and heating costs
While there are good reasons to be apprehensive about high energy costs these days, this is also a great opportunity to re-evaluate our lifestyle choices and day-to-day habits to find new ways of being better stewards of our limited resources. Certainly technology can help us make better uses of energy, but the best means of conservation come through the personal choices we make. I value discussing campus concerns or ideas about how we can go forward as a community trying to best manage our resources.




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