ATLANTA -- Spending on energy of all sorts within the University System of Georgia dropped $9 million from 2011 to 2012, a nearly 7 percent decline, much of it due to equipment upgrades.
The system’s $112 million budget for electricity, natural gas and coal benefitted from the installation of improved lighting fixtures and more efficient heating-and-air-conditioning units in various buildings across the system. Much of it was paid for with $27 million in federal stimulus funds. But the system is now regularly using its annual maintenance appropriation from the General Assembly for similar upgrades, according to Sandra Neuse, assistant vice chancellor for operations.
“We did a lot of lighting updates. That doesn’t sound very exciting,” she quipped. “... It always surprises people because it doesn’t sound like much just changing lamps.”
Other upgrades include electronic thermostats and occupancy sensors on lights that turn them off when rooms are empty.
Georgia Southern University tried to get students involved with the savings. Volunteers roamed the dorms, swapping conventional light bulbs in personal study lamps with more efficient florescent bulbs.
The University of Georgia and Georgia Tech even staged contests to award pizza parties to the dorms with the lowest energy use.
Such contests are one benefit of another upgrade, the installation of meters on individual buildings. Although the power companies centralize their meters at each school, the sub meters allow administrators to monitor buildings separately, Neuse said.
“It’s very difficult to know where to put your focus if you don’t know where the energy is being used,” she said.
That paid off at Armstrong Atlantic State University where officials zeroed in on the science buildings. The culprits were the chemical hoods, fancy versions of what every home’s kitchen has over the stove to suck out grease and fumes.
Laboratories have hoods to draw away volatile vapors during experiments. The school won national recognition for installing variable-speed fans and tying all of the exhaust vents to a centralized stack.
It resulted in fans that only run on high when needed, making for quieter classrooms and pulling out less warm air so the heating system doesn’t have to work as hard. Lessons learned at Armstrong are being applied to the designs of future laboratories, Neuse said.
The University System’s energy conservation drew applause from the Sierra Club of Georgia’s Seth Gunning.
“I would congratulate them. I would give them a big thumbs up for that,” he said.