Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

September 14, 1995

Turn off unnecessary lights, computers and Pitt could save $1.3 million on its electric bill

If members of the University community would turn off lights and computers when leaving a room and delay turning on the heat and air conditioning, they could help Pitt trim its annual electric bill by as much as 10 percent, according to Glenn Avick, director of Engineering and Construction in the Office of Facilities Management.

While a savings of 10 percent may not seem like a very big deal to a homeowner with a $40 monthly electric bill, for the University, with an annual Duquesne Light Co. bill in excess of $13 million, the return would be substantial. According to Theresa Wilson, the newly appointed engineer for energy management in the Office of Facilities Management, Pitt's average monthly electric bill is about $1.5 million in the summer, due mainly to the use of air conditioners, and about $1.1 million in the winter.

"There are big bucks to be saved here," notes Avick.

Potential savings are so great, in fact, that Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Ben Tuchi has made energy conservation a major goal of the Office of Business and Finance's long-range cost-cutting plan. The hiring of an energy engineer and development of an energy education program to teach members of the University community how to trim their energy usage actually top the list of a dozen initiatives designed to cut costs in the Business and Finance area in 1996 (see story on this page).

"The single best thing individuals can do is lighting control," says Avick. "If you are going out of your office for an hour, an hour and a half, just hit the switch on your way out. It is a fallacy that it is more costly to turn a light on and off than to leave it on." "Make sure computers are turned off, too," adds Wilson. "In dorm rooms there is no reason to have a microwave, TV, radio and all the lights on at once. People should just try to make sure everything is off when they leave a room." Avick also asks staff and faculty to compromise when it comes to room temperature. What is comfortable for one person may be miserable for another. "Most University buildings don't have a thermostat per office, sometimes not even per floor in the older buildings, so you have to pick a temperature that's in between," he said.

Along with encouraging members of the University community to cut their office energy usage, Facilities Management has embarked on a number of other energy conservation programs involving air conditioning, lighting and power systems. Two years ago Pitt joined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Green Light Program, which commits the University to improving lighting efficiency wherever it is feasible and maintains or improves lighting quality. By following the program's guidelines, the EPA estimates that electrical consumption can be reduced by 10-30 percent. The Green Light Program is designed to be phased in over five years. The first two years are for surveying electrical usage. To date, about 60 percent of the Pittsburgh campus has been surveyed and new lights installed in a few buildings for which Pitt has received matching grants from the Pennsylvania Office of Energy.

Sometime during the year, Avick says he should be able to present Senior Vice Chancellor Tuchi with a plan to install new lighting on 25 percent of the Pittsburgh campus and begin seeking funds for the job.

Avick says that theoretically Pitt should be able to cut its total energy bill by 20-25 percent. To achieve such savings, however, would require a full energy conservation program and the replacement of all major equipment with more modern, efficient equipment. That would cost $15 million to $20 million, Avick estimates, and though it would pay for itself in 5-7 years, he said funds aren't available for such a comprehensive program.

Energy conservation projects undertaken by Pitt so far have not required an outlay of capital funds, according to Avick. They include negotiating more favorable rates for gas and electricity, and seeking competitive bids on coal for the Bellefield Steam Plant. Pitt owns 62 percent of the plant. Smaller partners in it are the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, The Carnegie, Carnegie Mellon University and the city of Pittsburgh.

Still, aided by a mild winter, the University was able to trim approximately $1.2 million from its utility bills in fiscal year 1995 from fiscal year 1994. The bill for natural gas dropped from about $968,000 in FY 94 to about $811,000 in FY 95; electricity fell from $14.4 million to $13.3 million; steam from $4.3 million to $3.8 million; heating oil from $263 to $236, and fire line service from $2,982 to $1,384.

Utility costs that rose from FY 94 to FY 95 include water, $1.1 million from $1 million; sewage, $455,000 from $399,000, and chilled water, $1.5 million from $1.1 million.

Avick says Duquesne Light could help the University cut its electric bill even more if it would adopt a rebate program called Demand Side Management.

According to Avick, electric companies in recent years have realized that there is little money available to build new power plants. So, instead of building plants to meet electric demand, they have tried to reduce electric use by paying a rebate to customers who control their maximum demand.

Universities in locations where electric companies practice Demand Side Management can negotiate rebates with their utility when they purchase more efficient air conditioning, refrigeration and heating units, lighting and other such equipment.

"Duquesne Light, because of the fall of the steel industry, has capacity to spare," says Avick. "So, they've been dragging their heels on putting in a Demand Side Management Program." A spokesman for Duquesne Light did not respond to a call from the University Times about the Demand Side Management Program.

Because Duquesne Light does not have a rebate program, Avick says that anything the University does to cut electric use has to be self-financed. Even though Pitt is hampered by Duquesne Light's lack of a Demand Side Management Program, Avick notes that a recent study by Facilities Management shows Pitt's energy usage to be in about the middle when compared to similar institutions. Among the new energy conservation programs Facilities Management will experiment with this fall are timers in some classrooms that will turn off lights after a set period of time. And, since problems frequently accompany new ideas, Avick asks staff and faculty to be patient while the bugs are worked out.

"We would like members of the University community to comment on the things they see," Wilson adds. "We can't be everywhere. We have to rely on people in an area to tell us how technologies are working. We want to make this a win-win situation for everybody."

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 2

Leave a Reply