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Campus turns down thermostat, saves cash: Holiday conservation cuts almost $100,000 from gas, electric bills

By Clifton B. Parker on January 30, 2009 in University News

Fresh Idea Brings Campus Produce to UC Davis Pantry

Associate Chancellor Maril Stratton came prepared. Long underwear, turtleneck sweater, corduroy overshirt and furry slippers.

She knew it would be cold in Mrak Hall on the Sunday after New Year’s. Davis campus officials had issued a notice that they would turn down the heat over the holidays.

The effort paid off: saving the campus almost $100,000 worth of gas and electricity. The savings came from a reduction of 8 percent in gas use, and almost the same reduction in electricity use.

“The success of this energy savings program, one of several that the campus is putting into place to reduce energy utilization, is very gratifying,” said Vice Provost Barbara Horwitz, who, while serving as interim provost through Dec. 31 was a leading advocate for energy conservation around campus.

“We are not only reducing our carbon footprint, we are saving money that can be redirected for academic priorities. Kudos to everyone involved.”

Horwitz and other campus officials knew going in that turning the heat down over Christmas and New Year’s would affect a minimal number of faculty and staff—considering that Dec. 24-25 and Dec. 31-Jan. 1 were holidays, and many people would be taking off the following Fridays and not coming in on the weekends.

For those people who were coming to work, Horwitz advised in her Dec. 18 notice to the campus: “Plan to dress in layers or have a sweater close at hand.”

Facilities Management did not receive any complaints about building temperatures. “This was very satisfying, and we appreciate the campus’s cooperation with our energy conservation efforts,” said Allen Tollefson, director of the Building Maintenance division.

Stratton reported a temperature of 63 degrees in her office when she came in Saturday, Jan. 3. She said she could not get warm, despite dressing in layers.

Upon returning the next day, she dashed off an e-mail to Dateline: “It’s 9:55 a.m. on Sunday and 59 degrees in my fifth-floor Mrak Hall office. … Today I’m wearing long underwear, a turtleneck sweater, a corduroy overshirt, and my insulated, furry bedroom slippers.

“And if I need more insulation, I’ve got a crocheted afghan to throw over my legs, a scarf to wrap ’round my neck and my Pacific Trail all-weather jacket to provide a fourth layer. I’m ready!”

Hours later, she reported: “It’s now 10:30 p.m. and it’s a toasty 66 degrees. … I’ve finally shed the scarf and the afghan, though I’m liking my furry slippers.”

She reported that the heat had kicked on about an hour earlier. That was part of the plan: to crank up the heat in preparation for people returning to campus the next morning, Monday, Jan. 5.

The temperature turndowns began at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23, and Tuesday, Dec. 30, before the Wednesday-Thursday holidays, and at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 26, and Friday, Jan. 2, before the weekends.

“These restrictions were made possible this year because of all the work that has been accomplished during the past three years in improved metering and controls, mechanical system enhancements and the establishment of the Energy Management Center,” officials said in a memo about holiday energy conservation.

Resource Management and Planning Vice Chancellor John Meyer said: “We expect to be much more aggressive in our energy conservation efforts—both to save jobs and the planet.”'

Indeed, the campus saved enough natural gas, 5,200 decatherms, to meet the demand of 96 average homes in California for a year, based on the average use in a home that lies within Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s service territory.

The campus saved enough electricity, 630,000 kilowatt hours, to power 107 average homes in California for a year.

Altogether, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 4, campus electricity use totaled 11.4 million kilowatt hours, about 3 percent less than during roughly the same period a year ago.

During the same time frames, the Central Heating and Cooling Plant burned 92,900 decatherms of gas this year, about 4 percent more than a year ago.

The increased gas use is no doubt attributable to colder temperatures: averaging 42.6 degrees daily from mid-December through New Year’s, including one night when the temperature fell to 26, compared with a daily average of 45 degrees a year ago, never falling below 29.

The preholiday week this year, Dec. 15-21, was particularly cold—averaging 41.5 degrees daily. The central plant used 32,700 decatherms of gas that week, an increase of 4,400 Dth over roughly the same period the year before.

During Christmas and New Year’s weeks this year, however, the plant used only 1,600 more Dth than the year before, despite the colder temperatures and increased demand, the result of nearly 200,000 square feet of newly developed building space.

“The university’s investments in ad-vanced utility metering technology and energy conservation projects are clearly paying off,” Utilities Director David Phillips said.

One of the campus’s valuable new tools is the Utilities Consumption Dashboard: It shows electricity use and costs for the campus as a whole and for individual buildings. Over the coming year, Facilities Management plans to add a component on natural-gas consumption.

Tips on how to conserve energy all year long.

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,