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Energy crunch

With increasing costs expected to strain budget, campus asked to conserve

David McKinney/University Relations

Mike Burke, supervisor, Facilities Operations, demonstrates the workings of one of KU’s boilers. With increasing energy costs, the KU community is being asked to help conserve energy to offset an expected $2 million spike in electricity and natural gas spending.

With increasing costs expected to strain budget, campus asked to conserve Anyone who has opened a utility bill in the last year has undoubtedly noticed energy costs are on the rise. KU is not immune to the problem, and it’s about to get worse.

Don Steeples, senior vice provost, said increases in utility rates will add nearly $2 million to expenses on the Lawrence campus alone for fiscal year 2009. The university community is being asked to help offset the increase in costs by taking steps to decrease energy consumption in their respective units.

The administration has taken steps to combat the problem as well. Load shedding of cooling systems has been implemented where feasible. The measure, which turns off cooling systems for 15 minutes each hour, has resulted in savings of at least $3,000 per week, Steeples said. The peak electrical demand on campus typically happens between the first day of the fall semester and the second week of September, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. The rate of energy used during this time has a direct effect on the amount the university pays throughout the year, which prompted administrators to adjust thermostats higher between the end of the summer session and beginning of the fall semester.

Steeples said the load-shedding efforts may result in temperature increases of about two degrees in some spaces between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Temperatures above 80 degrees can be reported to Facilities Operations at 864-4770 so the program can be adjusted.

KU faculty, staff and students are encouraged to help offset the rising costs by turning off lights and equipment when not in use. According to a governor’s directive and KU policy, computers should be turned off when not in use. Tips for conserving energy in the workplace, as well as governor’s directive and KU’s energy policy, are all available at

David McKinney/University Relations

Increasing energy costs are raising utility bills, but several KU researchers are working on ways to perfect alternative energies. Above, Susan Williams, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, and a team of graduate students are among those working to make biofuel from used cooking oil as part of the Biodiesel Initiative.

Chevron Energy Solutions, a company KU contracts with to maximize energy efficiency, recently released a list showing which campus buildings spent the most on energy and natural gas in fiscal year 2007. Although some spend significantly more on energy, calculating their efficiency is not as simple as finding out how many people are in the building or determining who didn’t turn the lights off when he or she left the room.

“There are so many variables with energy usage in different buildings that it is much more difficult than comparing apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing apples and aardvarks,” Steeples said. “For example, in addition to type of use, building design, age of building, age and design of air handling systems and type and size of building all have some effect.”

Tracy Horstman, director of the Office of Space Management, echoed that sentiment. Malott Hall, which ranked first on the list, spending $875,402, houses a tremendous amount of research equipment. Others, such as the Wesley Building, which houses University Relations, was No. 90 on the list at $10,409, have completely different uses. Research buildings, such as Haworth, which ranked second, often house equipment such as fume hoods, refrigerators and freezers that are vital to the research being conducted there.

Stan Loeb, environmental specialist with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, pointed out that buildings that consume the most energy can still be the most efficient, based on factors such as square feet. Other buildings have unique uses, he said, such as the Spencer Museum of Art, which was seventh at $263,062. The museum has to control climate to preserve its artistic holdings. He also stressed building use is a key factor.

“The product here is twofold,” he said. “One is the students and providing their education. The other is research. We are a research institution, and there is an inherent cost in that.”

One thing all buildings have in common is people. Steeples, Horstman and Loeb agreed every person can do their part to reduce energy consumption.

“Individuals can certainly help when they’re on campus,” Loeb said. “There are a lot of little things everyone can do. Every little bit will help.”

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