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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

November 4, 2005

Energy savings evaporate; thermostats to be reset

by Samantha Beres

A new energy savings plan is being implemented on campus. The plan, which was developed by Facilities Planning and Management (FP&M) and approved by the Provost's Academic Council, calls for all thermostats on campus to be reset.

In 2002, Iowa State saved $1.5 million by doing this very thing -- thermostats were reset to temperatures that were a little warmer in the summer, and a little cooler in the winter. Savings were equally as successful for two years to follow.

In the last year, however, there has been a sharp decline in savings due to exemptions (requests to bypass the temperature set points or extend equipment operating hours).

These exemptions will become "void" and FP&M staff will consult with officials in every building to establish building-specific energy plans.

Weather-related exemptions

Most exemptions are requested during very hot or very cold weather, according to Dave Miller, director of FP&M operations and co-chair of the Energy Conservation Task Force. He has tracked the timing for exemptions over the past five years.

"Whenever we get a prolonged warm spell, on about the third hot, humid day, people say, 'That's it; I've had it,'" Miller said. There is a surge of requests for exemptions during warm spells in the summer and cold spells in the winter.

Some of the requests are extreme, he added. For example, many people ask that temperatures be reset lower or higher by five or more degrees and on a 24/7 basis.

"Over the years, we've had a few more requests, and a few more and a few more. Now, a vast majority of our campus is running at 72 degrees 24 hours a day," Miller said. The exemption book is 4 inches thick.

To preempt weather-related exemption requests, the plan calls for more comfortable set point temperatures. In 2002, temperatures were set at 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer. Now, they generally will be set to 70 in the winter and 76 in the summer.

The plan also calls for building energy systems primarily to operate between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Public areas and classrooms used for night courses will have longer hours. During off hours, systems will be reset to save energy.

These temperatures and hours are a general guideline to help establish an energy plan for each building. Miller said every effort will be made to implement the plans by November.

Human -- not Mother-- nature

The reasons Iowa State is losing ground in energy savings, Miller said, have much to do with human nature. The "enough is enough" attitude is one example. Also, employees don't pay the utility bill, so there is a disconnect between the request and the higher energy bill, he noted.

He added that while people initially were proud of what they could do to help with saving energy back in 2002, it's typical for the excitement of a new plan to wear off. Part of the intent of resetting the temperatures is to get people excited about energy conservation again.

"When you consume energy, at the end of the month, you have nothing to show for it. If you save the money, it's $1.5 million that can go toward something else that ISU can do," Miller said. "It's the one thing that all of us can do to contribute to the future of Iowa State."

Here's the savings

The use of electricity is a direct indicator of voluntary efforts employees can make. Electrical savings also declined in the last year. Here's an indication of how much you might be spending -- or saving. (Multiply it by 6,000 employees and the results are a little more dramatic.)

And don't forget the lights. The energy task force recommends that you turn off your office lights if you will be gone more than 15 minutes.

Annual costs

On all the time $72
Off nights and weekends $20
On all the time $65
Monitor off nights/weekends $40
(CPU still is on)
Off entirely nights/weekends $20
Other items
Personal fan (run 10 hrs/day) $36
Dorm-type refrigerator $7
Coffee maker $12 to $23


"Over the years, we've had a few more requests, and a few more and a few more. Now, a vast majority of our campus is running at 72 degrees 24 hours a day."

Dave Miller