Energy Summit Focuses on Cost Savings For Colleges

Energy Summit Focuses on Cost Savings For Colleges

10:58pm Jul 16, 2015
A wind turbine overlooking Appalachian State University provides enough energy to power 10 to 20 homes. It was paid for by student fees earmarked for renewable energy and is part of the university's drive to reduce energy costs through sustainable technology.
WFDD Photo by Paul Garber

A 150-foot wind turbine towers from the top of a mountain that overlooks Appalachian State University.

Michael J. O’Connor is director of the university’s physical plant. He says the turbine is one of the more visible examples of how the campus is looking for ways to save money while at the same time helping the environment.

“That generator can produce up to 200 kilowatt hours of energy – which is a fairly large amount, probably enough for 10 to 20 homes.”

Sustainability was the focus of the Appalachian Energy Summit held on the Boone campus this week. More than 400 energy engineers, administrators and students attended. Topics included so-called "smart buildings" that can detect when people enter and adjust the lighting and thermostats.

O'Connor says similar sensors have been installed across much of the campus' more than 5 million square feet of buildings.

"We have over 108,000 devices that are actually monitoring and controlling our use of energy in our buildings. And those 108,000 devices return over 900,000 data points. And by directing that symphony of data, we're able to significantly reduce costs on campus."

Ged Moody is Appalachian’s director of sustainability. He says the school has long been recognized as being at the forefront of the UNC system’s sustainability efforts. And that comes with some responsibility.

“What we want to do with that notion of being a leader is we want to share it. The idea of being sustainable and working towards our future is not something you want to wrap around and hold tight. It’s something you want to share with the whole state because we all share the same future.”

Moody says the goal is to save the UNC system a total of $1 billion through energy savings by 2020. The system spends $227 million on energy each year, or about $1,000 per student. 

Brenton Faircloth of Winston-Salem was among the college students in attendance. He says sustainable technology has moved from a good idea for the future to something that is having an impact right now.

"It isn't just an environmental issue. It's a social and economic issue and when we start looking at all these lenses together we can identify common agendas," he says.

O’Connor, the physical plant manager, says economics, not politics, is the main driver of the move to sustainability. He says the price of sustainable technology was once a hurdle, but the price has been dropping, making the technology cost effective over the long haul.

That’s saving money for the UNC schools, and also serving as an example for others, O'Connor says.

"If we can do it in UNC system, then why can't K-12, the community colleges, our government buildings and then our corporations?" he asks. "It's good for the bottom line."

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