Today@Sam Article

Pilot Program Leads To Energy Reduction

March 23, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti

Joe Mack Johnson, campus energy manager and Joe Skains HVAC services supervisorWhen it comes to energy conservation and sustainability at Sam Houston State University, Campus Energy Manager, Joe Mack Johnson, firmly believes the future will look very different.

“From what I’ve observed during my time at SHSU, and the changes that everybody has agreed to, going forward looks a lot different than our past,” Johnson said. “I think our faculty, staff, students and administration are all going to be proud to say we've made some good changes and we're going to see the impact from that.”

The changes are part of a major study Johnson launched along with others in Facilities Management like Matt Roberts, executive director of Facility Services. Charged with the task to optimize energy usage, they work with a variety of people across campus, like Joe Skains HVAC services supervisor, to uncover energy saving prospects and develop solutions.

For example, through a recent year-long study focused specifically on SHSU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences building, they determined an impressive annual savings of over $130,000.

“First and foremost, we need to do what's right for the environment. We need to be good stewards of that. For financial reasons, there's obviously a great deal of value of us operating the most efficiently as possible,” Roberts said. “If we’re not doing that, we are causing ourselves a higher operational cost and not doing what we need to do for the environment.”

As Campus Energy Manager, Johnson works to identify energy savings by studying campus buildings to see which ones might be operating differently. Most of this is done through examining data, both at the meter and each building’s data.

The research includes analyzing load shapes in data, meaning the curve that represents energy use over time. It shows how electricity use changes over the day with consumption from things like lights, equipment and air conditioning.

“With the overall load shape of the university, there is a pretty flat curve associated with the usage of energy, so no matter the time of day, energy consumption is pretty steady across the line,” Johnson said. “This gave us indication that there was an opportunity to turn off more parts of buildings whenever they were unoccupied.”

Identifying where to begin the study, Johnson investigated campus buildings that mimicked the same load shape of the campus’ overall use. 

“We looked for a building that would be representative of our campus, not really old, not really new, somewhere in the middle that had all the attributes we were looking for. That's how we arrived at the CHSS building,” Johnson said. “Whenever we started looking closer, it became evident that it was a good representation, a good building to use as a benchmark study, and it played out that way.”

SHSU College of Humanities and Social Sciences buildingWhen the team first selected the building, they anticipated the study having a marginal impact on savings.  

“What we found was there was a lot more opportunity there than what we originally thought, and that gives us hope for the rest of the campus as well. I think we’ll have a lot of success,” Johnson said.

Johnson, Roberts and others on the project, examined at every aspect of the building to find ways to significantly lower energy usage.

“When no one is in the building, we want to be doing the bare minimum. Our research meant determining how to do that without impacting daily operations,” Roberts said. “Not only did we look at obvious times when the campus is shut down, we looked more closely at specific details in classroom occupancy during different hours of the day.”

Through implementing new technology and strategies to reduce energy use by monitoring classroom and office occupancy with motion detectors and improved meters, the team found the largest amount of energy reduction.

They also discovered systems in the building that weren’t operating as efficiently as they should and addressed those issues.

“I estimate around 10 percent of the savings that we've achieved have come through that system maintenance effort and increased our overall impact from the project's original intent,” Johnson said. “We originally thought we were going to be in the $80,000 range as far as annual savings, but it came out much higher.”

Now that their pilot project with the CHSS building is complete, the team is ready for their next building energy endeavor. They have already started the initial work to investigate Old Main Market.

The bigger plan is how to incorporate renewables in the future for the university, namely solar.

“The efforts we are doing for the campus decreases the carbon footprint so greatly that it begins to impact what the future cost of a renewable project would be on the university,” Johnson said. “The future, as it relates to renewables, becomes more feasible because of the work we’re performing now.”

Photos: Tega Okperuvwe

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