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Universities work to reduce energy consumption

energy consumption

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

In recent years, Mississippi’s public universities have implemented greener efforts with these three words in mind, placing an emphasis — and a bit of a twist — on the first “R.”

In Fiscal Year 2006, the state College Board set a goal to reduce energy consumption at Mississippi’s public higher education institutions by 30 percent per square foot by FY 2016.

With only two years to complete that goal — which coincided with recommendations from a state College Board energy task force, officials are optimistic.

“We wanted to shoot for something that was a bit ambitious, but within reason,” said J.D. Hardy, chairman of the Institutions of Higher Learning’s Energy Management Council. “We’re right where we need to be right now.

“In Fiscal Year 2013, we (Mississippi public universities) were at 22 percent less energy used per square foot as compared to Fiscal Year 2006.”

Hardy said reducing energy consumption at universities is important because resources are limited and costly.

“It’s been a steady decline, and we calculate that we have avoided over $53 million in natural gas and electricity charges across the board,” he said. “Since our 2011 Institutions of Higher Learning sustainability policy was put into place, universities are required to take at least 25 percent (of energy savings) and reinvest it in other energy initiatives. Anything beyond that will go into general operation.”

Here is a look at some of the universities’ efforts.

Southern Miss

At the University of Southern Mississippi, Chris Crenshaw focuses a lot of his time on conservation efforts.

“It’s the right thing to do … for our community, our state and for the campus itself,” said Crenshaw, who serves as assistant vice president for Facilities Management and Planning at Southern Miss. “There’s a lot of ways for sustainability to have an impact on a campus, and we (physical plant employees) are trying to broaden our scope in terms of how we approach that.”

Since FY 2006, Southern Miss has reduced its energy consumption by 29 percent and saved more than $8 million.

“What the university has been doing is making investments in capital improvements that lead to more energy-efficient buildings and systems,” said Douglas Vinzant, vice president for Finance and Administration at Southern Miss. “By reducing consumption through those improvements, we have been able to defray expenses from rising energy prices and additional square footage.

“If we weren’t able to achieve these savings, (we) would have to increase (our) tuition to offset energy-related increases. We’ve avoided asking for larger increases in tuition because we’ve been able, in this area, to reduce the operating costs through efficiency improvements.”

Such improvements are being implemented in projects across campus, including current undertakings including the construction of the Century Park South residence complex.

The university is aiming for LEED Gold certification with the 954-bed Century Park South, according to David Bounds, associate director for projects, operations and campus landscape at the Southern Miss physical plant. That certification was awarded to Century Park North.

Buildings can obtain LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification through U.S. Green Building Council rating systems, but only if designs and construction meet criteria directed toward human and environmental health and overall efficiency.

As the Century Park South project manager, Bounds knows which technologies will best benefit conservation efforts.

“As technology evolves, they’re making (it) much more efficient,” he said. “It’s important to use the most efficient, most modern equipment.”

The Century Park South chiller plant will house eight high-efficiency condensing boilers. Four will power the HVAC system, while the other four power domestic hot water.

Through the installation of variable frequency drives (VFDs), these boilers will only use necessary energy.

For example, as the demand for hot water increases while students prepare for morning classes, VFDs will power on as many boilers as necessary to meet the demand. But energy output decreases as students head to class and leave residence halls throughout the day. VFDs allow systems to conserve energy, lowering the costs attached to energy consumption.

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