WMU News

WMU making strides in energy efficiency, reducing costs

Feb. 24, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- When Carl Newton's physical plant team tackles energy efficiency issues in one of Western Michigan University's buildings, the buiding occupants might not notice the difference, but the University's business officers are taking notice.

"We try not to interfere with building occupants," says Newton, WMU's energy reduction manager. "We're not out to take anything away. We're just arranging to turn it off when they're not there."

The "it" might be lighting, heating or air conditioning, and by turning it off in unoccupied spaces, Newton's team is saving the University a bundle. A recently completed lighting project in the Student Recreation Center, for instance, has reduced energy usage in that building by 65,000 kilowatt hours monthly. That could mean a savings for WMU of $3,500 each month during peak usage times like the winter months.

Using lower-wattage light bulbs, new lighting fixtures, occupancy sensors and direct digital controllers, physical plant teams have been moving through campus buildings this winter, looking for ways to reduce energy. Among buildings already set up to reduce energy costs are Schneider, Dunbar, Knauss and Fetzer as well as parts of many others.

The first thing the team does is to adjust the lighting situation, replacing bulbs with lower wattage varieties. Next, where the building heating and air conditioning systems allow, direct digital controllers--DDCs--are installed to electronically control temperature. They keep the building set at 70 degrees in the winter and 76 degrees in the summer, and lower or raise the evening temperatures as appropriate. Right now, for instance, DDCs take building temperatures down to 62 degrees in the evening, and in the summer, after-hours building temperatures are allowed up to 80 degrees.

The final technological tool being used is the occupancy sensor that can adjust both lighting and temperature levels in rooms that are unoccupied for a period of time. Typically, the lights dim or are turned off and temperature moves to the after-hours setting when an area is unoccupied for a predetermined amount of time. Once occupied, the sensors bring both lights and room temperature back to the normal range for business hours.

Newton notes that not all the tools work in all buildings, so each energy plan is carefully tailored to the specific building design and use. And, he says, his office has a variety of other tools to pull into the energy savings mix. They range from daylight harvesting in areas with large glass expanses to heat exchange systems. The heat produced in the ice-making process at Lawson Ice Arena, for instance, is used to heat the pool in the adjoining Gabel Natatorium.

The impact of all of these measures is on the University's bottom line, and Newton says it's a constant struggle to remind people and departments that, while they might not see the campuswide bills, WMU struggles like every other consumer with rising natural gas and power costs.

"We're looking at kilowatt savings wherever we can find them," he says.

Newton says faculty and staff members can assist in the energy-saving cause by following these simple steps.

Leave thermostats alone and keep windows closed.

Turn televisions and stereos off when not in use.

Avoid use of electric heaters, unless a building has a mechanical failure and such use is approved by physical plant.

Turn computers off at the end of the day, unless the computer is involved in ongoing and complex math and research calculations.

Alway turn monitors off-even if the computer needs to remain on.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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