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Winter Energy Curtailment Initiative Reduces Tons of Carbon Emissions Annually

A heat map illustrating the significant reduction in energy usage in late December 2017 as a result of the Energy Curtailment initiative
A heat map illustrating the significant reduction in energy usage in late December 2017 resulting from the Energy Curtailment initiative

By turning down the lighting and HVAC systems during the holiday shutdown alone, American University reduces its carbon footprint by more than 276 metric tons of carbon annually – equivalent to the greenhouse gases from 54 cars driven for one year. Since 2012, when AU’s Winter Energy Curtailment initiative was introduced, the university has saved about $500,000 and 2,625 metric tons of carbon.

Like most organizations in the U.S. and around the world, AU turns its lights off and implements practices that reduce utilities usage for both cost and environmental reasons. However, the university’s building automation systems (BAS) take the process further by using programmed schedules, temperature setbacks, and other energy reduction protocols to further reduce evening and weekend energy consumption. Facilities Management began utilizing these technologies almost two decades ago and continues aggressively to develop and expand these capabilities.

Six years ago, the then newly-formed Energy Team established the Winter Energy Curtailment initiative to apply common sense curtailment efforts to the entire campus for the university’s two-week winter break. This was a much longer and riskier proposition than the typical weekend setback and required both a highly organized and methodical approach as well as extensive collaboration to maintain the campus’ support. Today, it has become a routine and annual practice at AU.

Each year, the behind-the-scenes preparations for winter curtailment efforts begin a few months prior to the AU winter holiday. A team comprising staff members representing various units within Facilities Management begin by discussing lessons learned from the previous year’s event as well as strategic, operational, staffing, and technology changes that have occurred during the past year. The group collaborates and communicates with technicians, front-line staff, and other key stakeholders including Housing, Events, Sustainability, College of Arts & Sciences, etc. Campus schedules and weather forecasts are reviewed, critical operations, risks, environments are evaluated, and a building-by-building assessment of HVAC systems is performed including their respective operating modes, set points, and schedules. Mitigation strategies are identified, plans are developed, operating procedures are adjusted as appropriate, and corresponding pre-testing is conducted in November.

While this effort is an initiative of Facilities Management’s Energy & Engineering department, the planning and communications efforts are extensive, as are the man hours to setback and verify the thousands of systems and to physically go through all the rooms and public spaces to check equipment, thermostats, and automation dashboards. Additionally, the Facilities Management staff monitors the performance of these around the clock, before, during, and after the holiday shutdown. The Winter Curtailment effort is an “all-hands” effort for Facilities Management. 

Helping their efforts is the steady increase in campus awareness and support that is pervasive across the academic and staff communities, but particularly is evident and impressive among the resident student population.

To measure the results of the Winter Curtailment efforts, the Energy & Engineering staff captures energy savings and carbon reduction data through multiple sources. An energy dashboard platform (BuildingOS provided by Lucid), which is tied to the electric meters in each building, is one means by which the team measures its efforts. The dashboard captures energy usage by 15-minute intervals and measures the energy usage in each increment to give users and viewers an accurate overview of the energy reduction after the curtailment. The usage is verified by the utility providers after the bills are generated with meter readings and usage.

As the holiday shutdown approaches, The Energy & Engineering team once again encourages the entire university community to assist in the annual energy-saving measures. Before making your holiday getaway, the team asks you to take these simple energy-saving measures:   

  • Ensure that all sink, shower, or other water faucets are turned off. Domestic hot water temperatures will be set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit by Facilities Management Staff. Report any leaks to 2FIX (x2439)
  • Switch off all non-critical lighting (critical lighting = life safety, security, etc.).
  • Disconnect all non-critical electrical equipment, appliances, and unnecessary plug loads from receptacles. NOTE: Refrigerators will remain as found, whether plugged or unplugged (we recommend that you clean, defrost, dry-out, and unplug them). Unauthorized space heaters plugged in may be confiscated.
  • Close all exterior doors, windows, and openings securely. External fresh air will be minimized and heating water/steam generation will be reduced by engineering staff per protocols.
  • Reduce space temperatures in all unoccupied buildings and building areas to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit wherever possible. This can be done manually by lowering the local thermostats or other heating/ventilation device controls. Facilities will deploy automated overrides to control the large mechanical room equipment similarly. 
  • Set fans (e.g., fan coil units in building lobbies and under residence windows) to low speed modes where possible. 

Be sure to share this information with your staff and direct any questions you may have to 2Fix to ensure that you receive a timely and well-coordinated response.