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3/15/04 -- UND Honored For Its High Tech Energy Management
Harnessing high-tech has helped the University of North Dakota heat more buildings with less energy – and harvest a national award. The Grand Forks institution is the first educational facility to receive the prestigious Administrator Award for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy from the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), part of the U.S. Department of Energy.
The award is especially meaningful, says Director of Facilities Larry Zitzow, because UND played no part in the nomination process. WAPA, which operates the hydroelectric generating stations on the Missouri River, selected UND on its own from the thousands of customers who purchase its energy.
The award recognizes UND’s successful campus energy efficiency program, its innovative approach to funding, and its development of an effective energy management team.
But the University isn’t looking for a star on its chest, says Randall Bohlman, technology advancement coordinator and certified energy manager with the facilities department. There are financial reasons to manage energy use, and technology can contain costs and increase efficiency.
In 1982, the steam plant heated 3.1 million square feet of space. Today, it heats 6.5 million square feet of space, a 110 percent increase, with a 10 percent smaller peak load. Since 1985, energy usage has been lowered by more than 40 percent, even though the campus has grown significantly, including the addition of a number of research buildings which tend to consume more electricity.
Using technology to heat more buildings with less power has also resulted in reduced labor costs, fewer breakdowns, and the ability to monitor buildings and catch problems before they escalate.
“We would be paying millions of dollars more to operate the campus if we didn’t use this technology,” Zitzow said.
Within the facilities building on the edge of campus, a communications room monitors electronic panels in individual buildings. The panels transmit temperature, energy use, and other vital signs. When buildings are empty and heating and cooling functions aren’t as critical, the system automatically adjusts the temperature and ventilation. This ability to manage energy use also results in a cheaper electricity rate from power companies, since the University is able to manage power use during “peak loads” and thus lower demand on its suppliers.
UND’s biggest, but not only, electrical supplier is WAPA. The University has the capacity to to use multiple sources, thanks to a decision made decades ago to invest in its own electrical infrastructure so that it would not be dependent upon the transmission system of a singe supplier. UND remains today the only institution of higher education in North Dakota with that capability.
The University is constantly designing and considering projects to further enhance efficiency. Return on investment is a primary consideration: projects are expected to return their costs in 10 years or less, without factoring in labor and maintenance savings.
Some projects are funded via the State Facility Energy Improvement Program, established by the State Legislature in 2002. UND has received more than $3.9 million from the program, and commissioned 11 projects that have generated an additional $640,000 in yearly energy savings. The program will pay for itself in a little over six years, Zitzow said.
For example, electricians recently replaced half the light fixtures on campus. The new lights use two-thirds less electricity, and have reduced the entire campus electricity load by 15 percent – all while increasing the quality of light in the buildings. A bonus: the new bulbs last three years, saving maintenance costs.
UND officials figure their conservation and energy management programs help avoid some $2 million in costs per year. “There aren’t many people nationwide doing what we are,” Zitzow said. For example, a new heat recovery project, which transfers heat from exhaust air to fresh air, has cut ventilation costs from $7,027 per year to just $350 in one building alone.
The University is also capable of producing some of its own power. Three new generators create enough electricity to handle emergencies, as well as to reduce overall costs.
Next on the agenda: An examination of the feasibility of using wind power on campus.