University could save money and environment by reducing energy use

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Much like its distinguished alumnus, President George W. Bush, Yale University has done little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as the rest of the industrialized world implements the Kyoto Protocol designed to stop global warming. While other American universities are committing themselves to emissions reductions, Yale remains a large and hungry energy monster. Compared to other American universities, the 722 million kilowatt-hours (kwh) that Yale’s buildings consume is extremely high. Stanford, for example, with 30 percent more students than Yale uses only 415 million kwh — 43 percent less power than Yale. To put it in a global perspective, the consumption of 21,000 Yalies is 30 percent higher than the energy needs of the 9.2 million people living in Chad.

The Yale Climate Initiative, of which I am part, is a student-initiated project at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies that aims to develop a long-term climate change strategy for Yale. We are working independent of the University and hope that our findings will spur the creation of a comprehensive energy efficiency program at Yale. The YCI is presenting their findings to the school on Thursday at noon in Bowers Auditorium at Sage Hall.

In addition to improving their energy efficiency, other universities are quietly working on ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by committing to renewable energy. Connecticut College has committed to purchasing 100 percent renewable energy for its electricity needs. The University of California system has made a huge commitment to solar power. Its ten-megawatt purchase will drive the solar energy market by increasing the amount of solar power generated nationwide by 20 percent. At Yale, only my own School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has committed to buying renewable energy. We will spend $3,500 to purchase 20 percent of our electricity from wind power. The energy demands of FES is so tiny, however, that Yale as a whole will buy only 0.1 percent of its electricity consumption from renewable energy.

Not only does Yale get the overwhelming majority of its power from fossil fuels, but Yale buildings are also incredibly wasteful. Inefficient Australia, the only other industrialized country to reject the Kyoto Protocol, considers office buildings to be “performing well” if they are using 100-200 kwh per square meter — buildings consuming over 400 kwh per square meter are considered to have “serious problems.” An average Yale building, however, consumes 628 kwh per square meter — one and a half times more than Australian buildings with serious problems. Yale’s complete disregard for energy efficiency measures has led to a whopping $50 million annual energy bill. If Yale could reduce its energy consumption to Stanford’s average of 560 kwh per square meter, Yale would save about $8.4 million per year — enough to give full scholarships to 295 undergraduate students.

To be fair, Yale is in the midst of renovating major buildings on campus — a move that usually reduces energy consumption by improving efficiency. However, with four of the 12 residential college renovations completed, the results have been most disappointing. Before the renovations, the residential colleges consumed around 250 to 300 kwh per square meter. The buildings now use some efficient technologies but have, in fact, sharply increased their energy consumption. The reason? The new rooms are now air-conditioned, more spacious, and have many more plugs for electronics. Newly renovated Berkeley College, for example, uses 568 kwh per square meter — twice as much as its non-renovated counterparts.

To reduce our energy consumption, Yale doesn’t need to divert millions of dollars worth of resources. Consider that in 2002, Yale earned 8.8 percent interest on the $11 billion endowment. The national average return from replacing windows, adding insulation, and undertaking other residential energy efficiency measures, however, is 16 percent annually — significantly higher than Yale’s return on the endowment. Further, the investments in stocks, mutual funds and real estate are subject to the whims of the market.

Savings from energy efficiency, on the other hand, are very low risk since the University buildings remain in steady use. The University could save money and save energy at the same time.

To prod the University in the right direction, the nine students in the Yale Climate Initiative have created a comprehensive inventory that includes emissions from all Yale buildings, power plants, the University fleet of cars, and business travel. Our group has recommended areas where the University can save energy and cut costs.

For students living in dorms, for example, heat is absolutely free, so wasteful practices such as opening the window in the winter are commonplace. For a few dollars a room, small energy monitors could be attached to each radiator to record the energy consumption of each student. Any savings recorded by the monitors could then be shared equally between the student and the University. This would give students the incentive to keep the heat turned down while maintaining the University’s incentive to upgrade the windows and insulation. If such a program reduced energy consumption from the heating and cooling of dormitories by 10 percent, Yale could hand the students in each college $10,000 per year to host college events and could still pocket $125,000 for itself.

By far the greatest area for improvement at Yale is in energy monitoring. There is currently no office that can say how much energy each building is using. The lack of organization is remarkable considering that Yale spends upwards of $50 million each year on electricity, heating, and cooling. Maxnet, the University’s database that records building-by-building energy consumption, contains such serious flaws that it misses over 16 percent of the total energy demand. Further, since a lot of Maxnet data is manually entered, it is rife with errors. Many buildings appear twice or not at all, while others have error-filled records with implausibly low levels of energy consumption. The University can’t cut energy that it can’t count.

By creating an accurate and up to date monitoring system and implementing minor energy efficiency measures throughout the University, Yale could save money and save energy. More importantly, a concerted effort to improve energy efficiency would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the United States comply with a treaty our President has rejected.



Nalin Sahni is a student in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is a Member of the Yale Climate Initiative.

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