energy use

Photo Credit: Erica Reed | Daily Texan Staff

UT Facilities Services’ Energy and Water Conservation Program recently launched several initiatives to decrease energy spending over the next seven years, totaling roughly $43 million annually.

UT President William Powers Jr. appointed a committee to reduce UT’s water and energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2020. According to Stephanie Perrone, one of Facilities Services’ four energy stewards, UT is well on its way to reaching that goal. 

“We need a 12.2 percent reduction over the next seven years, which seems really possible,” Perrone said. 

Since the program formed in 2009, UT has lowered its energy use by 7.8 percent and saved over $2.3 million in energy costs. 

Perrone said the reduction can be attributed to several variables, including increased capital renewal and replacement projects, Utilities and Energy Management efforts to reduce steam and chilled water, the Replacement and Renewal program realignment to replace antiquated systems and increased maintenance efforts.  

“Typically, our usage increases by 3.8 percent every year because we’re always growing the campus,” Perrone said. “But last year was the first year it actually decreased — even with the growth on campus.” 

The bulk of funds UT spends on energy goes toward chilled water and steam, which are used to heat and cool the buildings.

“About half of our energy use at UT goes directly to air conditioning and about a quarter of it goes to heating up the buildings,” energy steward Matt Stevens said. 

Chilled water, electricity and steam for every building on campus is supplied year-round by the Hal C. Weaver Power Plant. The plant burns natural gas to produce electricity and uses the heat produced in the process to generate steam.

Facilities Services is working to expedite the decrease in energy consumption by involving students in its efforts. Stevens said students help by taking part in initiatives such as Longhorn Lights Out, a campus-wide event where participants turn off lights and power down equipment for one hour on a specified date and time. 

“We have about 40 student volunteers who go around and turn off lights for us; that’s one of the best ways students can help out,” Stevens said.

Another new initiative, Conservation Conversations, is a series of speaker events designed to educate and engage the community on issues relating to sustainability.

“The more communication we have with the public, the more we’re going to see people change their energy consumption habits,” Perrone said.

Greg Nemete, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, speaks at the energy symposium hosted by the University of Texas Energy Institute on Thursday evening. Nemete’s presentation covered his research on alternative energy systems and the influences of energy policies on the public. 

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Students can measure their energy use through technological tools.

That’s what Greg Nemet, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin in the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, told students during an energy symposium Thursday in the Peter O’Donnell
Jr. Building.

Nemet, who studies models of alternative energy systems, explained how energy policies influence the lives of college students. His research shows students should be able to analyze their energy use with technological tools.

“Young people have more at stake on energy and climate issues than anyone else,” Nemet said. “My greatest source of optimism in addressing these profoundly difficult challenges is that we have lots of smart people setting out on careers and thinking about ways
to engage.”

The energy symposium discussed research methods that could explain the process of technological change in energy and its interaction with public policy. 

Nemet talked about the influences of past technological changes and the effects of energy policies on future technological outcomes. 

The talk was held by the UT Energy Institute, a body of scholars from multiple schools and research institutes within UT, whose members study a variety of energy issues. The Institute holds weekly energy symposiums with different speakers to introduce students and faculty to energy
policy questions.

Carson Stones, global policy studies graduate and teaching assistant for the symposium, explained how attendees benefit from the Institute’s events.

“Attendees can expect to get access to cutting-edge research, which is highly relevant to today’s most difficult energy questions,”
Stones said.

The Institute gives students the opportunity to broaden their educational experience by creating a community around energy issues of importance to the University. The talks are organized around four main pillars: policy, education, research and
commercialization.

International relations and global studies senior Alaina Heine said she attends the weekly events and explained how the insights of different speakers
influence students.

“Learning about a holistic look on energy, politics and economics gives a different view of every sector,” Heine said. “The level of speakers is incredible and allows students the opportunity to speak with graduate students with
different viewpoints.”

Michael Plemons relaxes in his hammock at the Barton Springs Spillway Thursday afternoon. Plemons said itÂ’s a good way to beat the heat because hammocks are always attached to trees and in the shade.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Record high heat in Central Texas has Austin city officials worried about energy usage and public health, but experts predict the weather will cool off and not cause severe damage.

Temperatures in the triple digits throughout late June peaked June 24 at 109 degrees. Energy officials said Austin saw its highest recorded energy usage ever recorded for June but maintain Texas has enough energy reserves to keep the public comfortable in the heat. Troy Kimmel, UT geography lecturer and KEYE meteorologist, said cooler weather patterns can be expected in the coming months.

“At this point, I think we’re in a changing pattern even though it has started off a little on the warm side,” Kimmel said. “There’s an indication that the temperatures will trend back down, although still a little warmer than what we’d expect seasonably.”

Robbie Searcy, spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said last summer saw the highest energy rates ever recorded in Texas or Central Texas. ERCOT is a system operator that accounts for 85 percent of Texas’ electric load, according to the ERCOT website.

“Going into this summer, we anticipated that there would be some seriously hot days like we’re experiencing now,” Searcy said. “It was like it is now for most of the summer last year. It definitely was brutal.”

ERCOT has protocol set in place to ensure enough energy is maintained for the public to operate comfortably, Searcy said, but it is important for residents to do their part in reducing energy use to keep energy reserves stable.

“We basically try to operate with a few thousand megawatts (MW) of extra energy available in the event of an emergency,” Searcy said. “If we drop below 2,300 MW of reserves, we generate an Energy Emergency Level 1. There are steps ERCOT goes through to ensure energy remains reliable through those situations.”

An Energy Emergency Level 2 is called when energy reserves drop below 1,750 MW. At this point, certain industrial loads and other entities have volunteered to cease their energy use until reserves are stable, Searcy said.

“We had that situation a couple times last summer, and of course we increase our pleas to the public,” Searcy said. “Worst case scenario, within this context is if that didn’t work either and we’re still seeing reserves drop, there are a series of rotating outages that occur. That’s what we call an Emergency Level 3.”

Kimmel said signs of an El Niño Southern Oscillation pattern are apparent in the Pacific Ocean, which indicates residents should expect wetter conditions in the southern region of North America.

“The Pacific Ocean waters off the west coast of South America are showing signs of warming,” Kimmel said. “If that’s the case, then with time it would tend to get us a little more rain around here and more in the way of clouds.”

The Austin and Travis County Health & Human Services Department released a statement with tips for how to stay healthy and safe in the current heat, such as planning strenuous activity earlier or later in the day to avoid peak temperatures and avoiding caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.

With a heat-related fatality in Bell County reported June 24, Kimmel said it is critical for residents to constantly be in check with their health.

“Heat is kind of a silent killer,” Kimmel said. “It’s not like a tornado rolls down the street and takes you down. It’s something that can be rather benign in its onset. This is something that concerns us. I know the city of Austin has taken extra precaution with their employees.”

Kimmel said it is impossible to tell precisely how the heat will trend out for the rest of the summer, but residents should not jump to worst-case conclusions.

“Just because we started out the summer with this record high heat doesn’t mean we should assume that’s the kind of summer we’re going to have,” Kimmel said. “That’s a pretty dangerous assumption to make at his point.”

Erich Heilmann-Jensen, a computer science senior, usually studies in his room with natural light rather than the overhead light, which he says is too harsh. The second annual Campus Conservation Nationals competition goal will encourage students across the United States to conserve energy in similar manners in an effort to cut down on electricity and water usage.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

Campus residence halls will attempt to reduce their energy use for the month of April as part of a national energy conservation challenge.

The second annual Campus Conservation Nationals competition’s goal challenges university residence halls to decrease their energy consumption by one gigawatt. The Power of One Energy Competition on campus, which began on April 1 and will end on April 21, is part of CCN’s national effort to reduce electricity and water use.

“Through Campus Conservation Nationals, hundreds of thousands of students are organizing their peers and campuses to find creative ways to reduce electricity and water consumption in buildings,” said Andrew deCoriolis, director of engagement at Lucid Design Group, the clean tech software company that founded CCN and one of this year’s organizers of the national effort.

Meagan Jones, environmental specialist for the Division of Housing and Food Service, said DHFS has attempted to reduce energy through various means such as installing energy efficient equipment and lighting and efficient compressor systems for dining facilities, but students can help reduce the demand side of the energy.

Jones said students can save energy by unplugging electronics when not in use as electronics and chargers use energy when they’re plugged into the outlets, even when they are off.

“Students can also save energy by turning off lights and using natural light when possible, using lamps instead of overhead lighting, taking the stairs instead of the elevators, washing clothes on cold and taking shorter showers, as it takes energy to make hot water,” Jones said.

Geography senior Andrew Townsend, assistant director of the Campus Environmental Center, said this contest is important because it serves as a teaching tool to help students understand the importance of reducing their own energy use.

“These types of campaigns are very important and help reduce demand-side energy use, which in turn reduces pollution and costs,” Townsend said. “In a world where both are skyrocketing, these are very important to reduce.”

English freshman Rachel Cohen, president of Brackenridge, Roberts & Prather Residence Hall Council, said this program will draw residents’ attention to just how much energy they use on a daily basis.

“It is vital to save energy for many reasons,” Cohen said. “Not only does it cut cost[s] immensely, but it also helps the environment by producing less waste and using
less electricity.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Dorms compete to reduce energy use

A woman walks below the powerlines on 5th Street and Lamar Monday afternoon. A recent report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas found that due to an insufficient supply of energy to meet growing demand, Texas could start experiencing rolling blackouts starting in 2012.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued a 10-year outlook report last week stating that Texas could face rolling blackouts starting in the summer of 2012 because of reduced energy generation and increased demand.

The report cites potentially extreme summer temperatures and power plant construction problems as factors that require rolling blackouts to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid. ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark said rolling blackouts use controlled power outages to balance the energy supply. Electrical companies cut off energy to different areas in the electrical grid for 15 to 40 minutes until the supply is balanced, Roark said.

Roark said the amount of energy held on reserve should equal 13.75 percent of the total energy generated in order to handle power outages and scheduled maintenance. Given the amount of energy that is currently produced and the expected demand, ERCOT predicts the percentage of energy reserves to drop to 12 percent during the summer of 2012.

“The report is a signal to the market about future energy demands,” Roark said. “It gives them incentives to make new energy plants to meet that demand.”

Roark said ERCOT is attempting to handle the generation shortage by increasing the number of customers paid to shut off their energy use during emergency situations.

Roark said ERCOT is responsible for balancing the supply and demand of energy in Texas in order to make sure the grid’s equipment is always running at the appropriate level. If the demand for energy increases and the energy supply is not enough to handle the demand, the grid equipment can be damaged and cause an uncontrolled blackout.

Juan Ontiveros, UT’s executive director of Utilities and Energy Management, said whether or not the rolling blackouts occur depends on what the energy market does, but the shortages will not affect the UT campus.

“On the main campus, we self-generate all of the energy, including electricity, for the majority of the campus, which includes all of the research facilities,” Ontiveros said. “However, we do rely on the ERCOT grid as a backup in the event we were to experience an unexpected failure of generation.”

Ontiveros said there is little chance for UT’s energy generation facilities to face problems, and the University is committed to meeting the energy needs of the campus.

“The main campus has experienced a reliability of 99.999 percent over the last 35 years,” Ontiveros said. “Over the last 10 years, we have made significant investments in the campus utility systems so that current and future campus energy needs are met reliably and cost-effectively.”

Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova said all energy companies in Texas have to participate in the rolling blackout even if they have enough energy to meet their demands.

“The voltage has to balance out. Otherwise, it creates even worse outages,” Cordova said. “Rolling blackouts are necessary to prevent a total blackout.”

Cordova said Austin Energy has increased the number of circuits in their system over the past year and will be able to spread outages more evenly throughout the city in the event of a rolling blackout.

Cordova said it is important for people to conserve energy to prevent potential shortages during the winter and summer seasons when energy use reaches its peak.

“Everyone will have to continue to conserve until more generation is brought online,” Cordova said. “Especially if temperatures are as high as last summer and the drought continues.”

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: UT not to be affected electrical blackouts 

A Nobel Prize-winning physicist encouraged a more realistic discussion rather than one based on exaggeration of the future of energy use in the 21st century during a lecture Wednesday.

Burton Richter, a professor at Stanford University, spoke as a part of the M.E.L. Oaks undergraduate lecture series.

The lecture gave information on climate change and focused on the energy options people have available today and will be looking forward to in the future.

Richter received a Nobel Prize in physics in 1976 and has been following energy and climate through his research since 1978.

“In the US, a battle of words between those who exaggerate the immanence of global warming and those who deny its existence has resulted in paralysis,” Richter said. “A broader discussion with a lower level of exaggeration and a higher level of realism about technologies might lead to progress.”

Rikki Garner, physics and psychology junior, said she felt that Richter’s work was both informative and honest.

“He wants to give you a truthful outlook on what the facts are on global warming and energy,” Garner said.