Turning off the lights at night, replacing old equipment and a strategic partnership have led to an estimated $260,000 in cost-avoidance for the university over the last eight months.
Significant savings on energy bills have come after launching an energy-saving initiative in January and the addition of Ben Rude, an on-campus energy specialist, in April.
Cenergistic Energy Conservation Company employs the specialist. Cenergistic works within schools, churches and healthcare facilities to save energy and money on their campuses. According to a Cenergistic press release, it has helped their clients save more than $3.5 billion by reducing their energy consumption by an average of 20% to 40%.
Rude, a 2011 ACU graduate, is employed by Cenergistic but ACU is his sole client. He said he looks to catch the most savings during nights, weekends and unoccupied hours. He audits buildings late at night and early in the morning to evaluate each building’s performance.
“My main goal is to make sure that things are off when they suppose to be off and when they are on making sure they are running as efficiently as possible,” he said.
Kevin Roberts, vice president of planning and operations, said the initiative is separated into two categories: mechanical and behavioral.
“We can address all the mechanical maintenance side,” Roberts said. “But Cenergistic comes in and tries to help us on the behavioral piece.”
By “behavioral,” Rude means the habits and practices that users on campus can control, like turning their computers off at the end of the day or working from home on the weekends.
Cenergistic gets paid a percentage of ACU’s energy savings.
“You only share with them the savings, the avoided costs. So if the savings aren’t as great, or costs go up, their share goes down,” he said.
The percentage is calculated by a third-party software called EnergyCAP. It tracks the savings and compares them to historical data from bills, usage and costs. The software also factors out the physical upgrades so that any savings shared with Cenergistic have to come from the behavioral changes.
For example, when Gardner Hall received all new LED lighting this summer, that information is entered into EnergyCAP. It is factored in as a mechanical change and calculates that Cenergistic will not receive a portion of those savings.
“To make sure that it’s comparing apples to apples, it calculates for weather and building upgrades,” said Rude. “The fact that it comes from a third party means it’s pretty impartial.”
Rude said Cenergistic prefers to use the term “cost-avoidance” when referring to money that has been saved, and “savings” when referring to actual energy used.
“What we’re doing is measuring the value of something not used. It’s not like every month we are writing a check to ACU,” he said.
The amount of energy ACU saved from January through August is equivalent to 1,380 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or 287 passenger cars taken off the road and not driven for one year.
Jan Noel-Smith, Cenergistic’s media correspondent, said EnergyCAP projects ACU will have a net savings of $6.4 million over the next 10 years.
Roberts compared Cenergisitc to a personal trainer.
“Can you work out on your own? Yes,” he said. “Will you do it? Probably not.”
He said having a company dedicated to helping us look at energy usage and think about it, has made all the difference.
“Truth is we could probably do all of this and not include them on the savings, but 100+ years has told us we’re not disciplined enough to do it,” Roberts said.
The challenge of communication
Rude said communication with departments and building managers has been a challenge in the process of making behavioral changes. He relies on building managers to let him know when a building is scheduled to be in use after five or on the weekends so it can be properly air-conditioned.
Rude said part of his job is remind people that it is the senior leadership team who created set temperatures that buildings must comply with. They should be between 72 and 76 degrees in the summer and between 68 and 72 degrees in the winter.
“For some people who don’t like the fact that things are warming up a little, it’s not to make things super uncomfortable, they’re just people that 72 is way too hot for them,” he said.
Joe Cardot, chair of the Department of Communication and chair of the Faculty Senate, said the faculty is in favor of saving energy and money.
“Any change we can make is positive with the consult that we don’t infringe or impede productivity,” Cardot said. “You don’t save money if you’re people aren’t productive.”
He said a number of faculty have complained, particularly on weekends because a number of faculty and graduate students often work on the weekends or late at night when the air conditioning is set to shut off.
“We need to, as faculty, begin thinking ahead about what we need to do or when we want to work more than we have in the past,” Cardot said. “We’re not going to save money if the system isn’t cycled on and off.”
Roberts said he is appreciative of all everyone’s support and understanding.
“We’re going to save some pretty significant dollars,” he said.