Turning off computers, lights could reduce costs

Lindsey Reed

Increasing power costs are prompting administrators to take a closer look for solutions on how to improve energy conservation on the Hill.

Adjusting thermostats when buildings aren’t occupied, reducing hot water temperatures and turning off computers at night are some of the suggestions university officials are considering.

Officials from Facilities Management and focus group members discussed energy conservation suggestions on March 11.

Western’s annual powers costs are expected to increase to $3.6 million by 2006.

John Osborne, associate vice president for campus services and facilities, said the biggest challenge in energy conservation will be getting the campus community to voluntarily cooperate.

“We realize it’s an uphill battle,” he said. “We just began the process of education with this meeting.”

Western’s annual power costs in 2003 were $3,028,359 and the 2004 costs are estimated at $3,165,829, Facilities Management Director Doug Ault said.

“We’re not looking for a one size fits all solution,” Ault said.

There has been a 3 percent growth each year in the university’s power usage, partly because of the increasing use of computers and more buildings being occupied late at night by people doing school work, Ault said.

“Our campus is becoming a 24-hour campus,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, $72 could be saved annually on each computer turned off for nights and weekends. Turning off copying machines at night and on weekends could also save the university $216 annually for each one.

History department head Richard Weigel said that turning off computers at night would be a good solution if it causes no damage to the computers or a quicker need for replacement.

“We just need to know the total information and how much we could save,” Weigel said.

Osborne said the university’s purchasing department has already contacted computer manufacturers and learned that computers are benefited from being turned off at night.

Strong communication is a factor in making the faculty and staff aware of the impact they can make by observing the suggestions, Osborne said.

The power costs are also increasing as the university adds more facilities on campus.

Removing non energy-efficient light bulbs and installing water flow restrictors and aerators in sink faucets when replacing fixtures are also ideas to conserve energy.

Ault said some faculty members were concerned about cutting back on the cooling during the summer because of humidity buildup.

“We all agree we need to do more, but we want to make sure we know the impacts before making decisions,” he said.

Two-thirds of the energy consumed on campus is electricity, he said. Half of that is used for lighting.

He said cutting lighting usage is the least interruptive conservation method.

Many people have the misconception that turning off florescent lights requires more energy than leaving them on, he said. That idea did apply when florescent lighting first came out.

“We’ve got to educate people on what type of lighting to use in different settings,” Ault said.

One of the plans to cut down on the energy costs is to limit hot water access to only dorms and food services, Ault said.

Facilities Management officials are also looking at cleaning products that require less water and are “environmentally friendly,” he said.

Western is currently working with Bowling Green Municipal Utilities to put water meters on its cooling towers so that the university will no longer be charged a sewage fee for water that goes through the cooler.

No action is currently being taken on how to deal with the space heater restrictions included in this semester’s budget cuts that were approved by the Board of Regents.

Ault said actions on space heaters were postponed since the heating season is almost over.

But Facilities Management is developing a plan to place stickers on approved space heaters and remove any others, he said.

Facilities Management has plans to work with Housing and Residence Life to improve energy saving efforts in the dorms by offering incentives.

Reach Lindsey Reed at [email protected]