Feb. 3, 2011

Winter break yielded less energy savings this year

by Paula Van Brocklin

This year's partial university-wide shutdown during winter break (Dec. 23-Jan. 2) didn't impact Iowa State's energy savings as significantly as last year, and there may be several reasons for that.

"In a lot of instances, providing heat for one office means providing heat for a whole floor or building."

-- Bob Currie

Iowa State saved $38,000 in energy costs during winter break this year compared to almost $118,000 last year. Milder weather, no university-required furloughs and more people working on campus all contributed to the reduced savings, according to Bob Currie, assistant director of facility services. In addition, this year 47 buildings were either closed or locked to the public versus 55 last year. And two new research facilities, Hach Hall and the Biorenewables Research Laboratory, still were under construction during last year's winter break.

Closed ... sort of

Currie added that more employees remained on campus during break, working in labs or offices, despite the fact that their buildings may have been closed.

"It appeared that many buildings were closed for normal business activity, but still had faculty and staff working through the holiday period," he said. "In a lot of instances, providing heat for one office means providing heat for a whole floor or building."

Another explanation for the reduced savings could be an ongoing conservation effort happening across campus. In other words, buildings are operating at higher efficiency levels, so a partial university-wide shutdown would not garner as much savings. And, it may be that faculty and staff are not conserving as much as they used to.

"The biggest impact on energy savings comes down to individual decisions, like deciding to shut off the lights when you leave your office," Currie said. "I think people are getting a bit more relaxed [about conserving energy]."

For the past two years, university officials have encouraged departments and units to shut down, if possible, during winter break. While energy savings is a positive outcome of a partial university-wide shutdown, administrators also recognize the opportunity for employees to take time off while students are off campus.

A comparison: 2010 vs. 2009

2010 2009
Electric savings $18,900 $29,500
Steam (heat) savings$19,000 $88,400