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June 25, 2015

Peak days: Pitt dials down AC

Emailed “energy curtailment notices” have sparked some concerns on the Pittsburgh campus, but brownouts aren’t part of the plan for curtailing power usage on peak days, Facilities Management officials say.

Messages on June 12, 22 and 23 stated in part that Facilities Management would be “voluntarily curtailing electric consumption in most Pitt buildings” in response to a peak day notification from the University’s electricity supplier.

That means a 2-degree increase in some thermostat settings, said Dan Fisher, assistant vice chancellor for maintenance and operations.

The emailed curtailment announcements are new, but the University’s response to peak-day notices is not, Fisher said.

“We’ve been doing this for several years,” he said. A first-stage curtailment results in a 2-degree increase. A second-stage curtailment — which hasn’t been done in his memory, Fisher said — would raise indoor temperatures another 1 degree.

Most people on campus seem not to feel a 2-degree boost to the thermostat, Fisher said. Still, in the past, Facilities Management’s work control center would get calls from some individuals who noticed their office was getting warmer. “So, we thought it was better to be proactive,” he said.

Laura Zullo, senior manager of energy initiatives, said Facilities Management still got calls following the curtailment notice, but not as many as when people were not notified in advance.

The peak-day notifications to the University typically come when the forecast calls for temperatures above 90 degrees and high humidity, Fisher said. Usually the University’s power supplier sends an alert a day in advance.

The University’s automated building management system enables Facilities Management to automatically adjust temperatures in about 90 percent of Pittsburgh campus buildings from its energy management center in the Eureka Building. Temperatures are set at 72 or 74 degrees in most rooms, Fisher said.

Thermostats can be adjusted by room, but office buildings that have no critical computing or research areas may be adjusted building-wide, he said.

“We do not curtail in critical research areas,” Fisher stressed.

The power curtailments are voluntary, not mandatory, Zullo said.

Duquesne Light is Pitt’s electricity provider, but the University purchases power through FirstEnergy. “They send us peak notifications when they’re expecting high demand,” she said, adding that both the power company and the University benefit by reducing usage on peak days.

Part of Pitt’s utility rate is related to its peak usage, so keeping the peak low can affect future costs, she said.

“If we get notifications and curtail at certain times, we can get incentives from our supplier,” added Zullo. “We’re never required to curtail.”

The little nudge to the thermostat can result in some big energy savings. For instance, energy management system reports for Posvar Hall show that power demand decreased 20 percent during the June 12 curtailment, Zullo said.

While there are no plans to raise the standard room temperatures campus-wide, Zullo said that Facilities Management is looking more closely at building occupancy schedules in order to optimize power usage.

In addition, faculty, staff and students are encouraged to help reduce power use by turning off unnecessary lighting and electronics when not in use.

—Kimberly K. Barlow