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OES reduces on-campus energy consumption in new ways

At a time when scientists are complaining about environment pollution and the university is strapped for cash, it should be a relief to hear that the university has at least one department that is trying to solve both of these issues. Since its formation, the Office of Energy & Sustainability (OES) has provided the university with hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings in just the past few years. By examining utility bills, performing multiple physical improvements on the energy-consuming systems, and raising environmental awareness, the OES has been able to make sure that YU is an environmentally friendly place, while also trying to keep the university economically sound.

The OES’s history begins in 2008, when it was created in response to two demands: to make YU a “greener” university, and to help manage energy expenses on all five of the YU campuses. Its goals (according to its mission statement, found on the YU website) include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage, “incorporate[ing]… the ideals of sustainability into” various parts of the university and its culture, and, of course, raising environmental awareness on campus. To help achieve these goals, YU appointed Michael Winkler, who had over a decade of experience in this field, to be director of the OES.

Soon after Winkler was hired, he sprang to action. Winkler explained that the same year he was appointed he realized that the university needed, to quote Winkler, “a tool to track, analyze and report the hundreds of utility bills that… [YU] receive[ed] each month.” The university then chose the Metrix 4 system from Abraxas Energy Consulting.

Metrix not only tracks yearly energy expenses (allowing for the OES to understand the university’s utilities), it also takes into account the weather and how it affects energy usage. Thus, if it is a particularly hot or cold year, although utility bills may be very high, Metrix allows its users to see if they were able to reduce potential utility costs.

When representatives from Abraxas arrived at YU’s Einstein Medical Center (where the OES is currently based) to provide training for the Metrix software, they also examined the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems for a few hours. Although Abraxas had only promised to reduce utility bills by $25,000 per year, their “audit identified some low-cost energy conservation and efficiency opportunities,” Winkler explained.

According to Abraxas, their audit eventually reduced YU’s utility bills by $160,000 per year. Some of the improvements were performed that day by on-site facility workers, and others took much longer. Physical improvements included repairing leaky valves, reducing steam consumption, and installing new HVAC hardware.

Winkler said that after seeing such positive results from the Einstein energy audit, the OES has performed energy audits on all five of the university’s campuses, focusing on areas such as lighting, ventilation, chillers, and steam boilers. He stated that “[i]n the last two years, we have focused on improvement with a rapid payback, like lighting efficiency and lighting controls upgrades.” These lighting improvements are an ongoing process.

Following this trend of adopting programs that have a “rapid payback,” Winkler revealed that the OES is currently “aggressively implementing energy projects that have simple payback.”

The OES has certainly taken some major strides with respect to energy management. By actively examining the university’s utilities and energy expenditures, it was able to find multiple ways reduce to energy costs and consumption, saving the university hundreds of thousands of dollars in only a few years. Yet, this is only the beginning for the OES. By 2020, it plans to reduce university carbon emissions by 20%. The OES continues to try to find other ways to advance, such as by applying for grants from Con Edison and from the state of New York.

In a time when the university’s economic stability is as fragile as the environment, this approach of being both economically and environmentally minded seems to be working well, making YU a greener place and helping to relieve its economic burden.