The lowdown on TU’s campus energy conservation

Case Tennis Center solar panelsThe University of Tulsa’s mission reflects a commitment to humanity as one of its core values. Throughout its history, TU has also maintained a strong connection to the surrounding community, and by extension, the larger global community. TU is dedicated to the good of society now and in the future, and environmental sustainability is embedded in the university’s culture. Embracing sustainability initiatives not only results in a positive impact on the environment and cost savings, but also ties to the primary goal of every decision on campus — supporting the success and wellbeing of students.

For its commitment to and investment in green initiatives, TU was included in The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges: 2019 Edition. The criteria of this distinction measures a school’s performance as an environmentally aware and prepared institution, including: whether students have a quality of life on campus that is healthy and sustainable; how well a school is preparing students for employment and participation in the clean-energy economy and world; and how environmentally responsible a school’s policies are.

TU has a long history of engaging in sustainability projects that range from reducing water consumption and paper usage to installing solar panels and implementing recycling initiatives. As part of the commitment to sustainability, President Gerard Clancy and the TU Board of Trustees announced a partnership with Dallas-based energy conservation firm Cenergistic to implement a new energy sustainability program that will increase technology, scaling capacity and organizational continuity among the university’s physical plant systems.

Electric charging station on campus

Teaming up with Cenergistic reinforces TU’s priorities on further reducing energy usage, capturing additional cost savings and providing more resources for students, faculty and staff. “Our partnership with Cenergistic will help us close funding and personnel gaps, allowing us to spend our budget where it matters: providing students an exceptional education with the appropriate resources,” said Jason Grunin, TU assistant vice president of business and energy. “Every dollar we save on energy helps us further the environment, experience and education of our students.”

In the following Q&A, TU energy specialist David Ellsworth shares how Cenergistic services will support TU’s management of energy and sustainability initiatives on campus.

Q: What is your role in the TU-Cenergistic partnership?  

A: My main responsibility as an energy specialist for TU is to work with staff members at every level of the organization to find new areas of opportunities to reduce energy consumption, while also improving comfort for building occupants. This is primarily accomplished by walking buildings during the day and night and talking to students and staff about their daily routines to see how they can help save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Q: What is the most exciting aspect of the TU-Cenergistic partnership?  

A: If everyone at the university identified one daily routine they could alter to save energy, it would make a world of difference. There is strength in our numbers. The only way we can be successful, is if everyone does their part. Being intentional about conserving resources is a good habit for everyone, whether at work, school or in our own homes. Reducing energy consumption reduces costs for all of us. It has been exciting to see everyone doing their small part, and as a direct result, there have been huge positive impacts on campus!

Q: How are these efforts putting the comfort of employees and students at the forefront of the decisions?  

A: The university has done a great job over the years creating a comfortable place to work in. We look to build on that success by using data analytics and using experiences in other universities to implement best practices. Our success comes from spending time with staff and students to understand their comfort needs, and then enlisting everyone’s help to maximize energy-saving opportunities when people leave the building at the end of the day.

Q: What’s the biggest difference you’ve seen on campus since the program started in January 2019? 

A: The three core goals of TU’s energy conservation program are:

  1. Maintain and improve comfort in TU facilities for increased productivity.
  2. Generate cost savings to fund more important campus priorities.
  3. Create a culture of sustainability that permeates through the communities and constituents TU serves.

These are the areas we are continuing to see the biggest impact.

Q: How has this sort of partnership worked with other universities? Have other universities had success reducing their energy use? 

A: For more than 30 years, Cenergistic has helped more than 1,400 K-12 districts, universities and government municipalities find more than $5 billion in hidden electricity, natural gas and water savings by applying sustainability as a service solution on their campuses. We are committed to helping university presidents, CFOs, COOs and board members reduce energy and water spending by up to 25% annually with no capital investment, while improving the comfort and quality of classroom and building environments. For 10 consecutive years, Cenergistic has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year.

Here are just a few examples of other universities using Cenergistic’s energy-saving program that have had great success:

  • Abilene Christian University, with a total energy use decrease of 27% over the past five years
  • The University of Kentucky, with savings of 15% over the past two-and-a-half years
  • Stetson University, with savings of 19% over the past four years

Q: What is one thing you would like employees and students to know about the program? 

A: We all waste a lot of energy in our daily routines, whether it is leaving the refrigerator door open for too long, using old and inefficient appliances that consume a lot of energy or by not reporting a leaky water faucet. Energy needs to be conserved to preserve our limited global resources for longer-term use. This program is about energy waste and empowering everyone to become an energy saver.

Our goal is to reduce TU’s energy consumption by 20%. Although we are on our way to hitting that goal, we need everyone to do their part every day!

Here are a few quick tips on how to develop those habits and create an energy conscious company culture:

  • Turn off lighting when leaving a space or room unoccupied and use natural lighting or task lighting where appropriate.
  • If you have a thermostat in your area that is adjustable, set the units back at night to allow space temperatures to drift.
  • Keep windows and doors closed when HVAC is operating.
  • Turn off plug loads such as computers, monitors, fans, coffee pots and other office equipment at night or when not used.

Q: When the rooms inside the building get hot, doesn’t it take more energy to cool them down when Monday hits, reducing the energy savings? How efficient is this strategy? 

A: As a rule of thumb, turning a thermostat up or down, making the room closer to what it is outside, is always more efficient when leaving a space unoccupied for any extended length of time. University buildings are actively managed on a daily basis to ensure building temperatures are comfortable and ready for occupants each morning. We encourage staff and students to continue to report any ongoing comfort issues.

Q: How are you tracking campus energy data?  

A: The Energy Program thrives on data. It is how we make decisions and reassess our own assumptions. As a result, Cenergistic and TU use a variety of tools to help us track the impact of our collective efforts. In addition to using a third-party energy accounting software EnergyCAP®, the university has a robust energy management system (EMS) to help monitor individual building trends.

When partnered with Cenergistic’s own proprietary analytic software GreenX™, we can run other data comparisons that can provide us with real-time data of how buildings are performing. Over time this data begins to help us understand how and what mechanical systems can be optimized for increased cost savings, where there are abnormalities and how we can become more energy efficient.