URI energy conservation initiative yields significant reductions in energy use

Posted on
9 million kwh of electricity, 14,000 gallons of oil saved

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 13, 2010 – The three-year energy conservation and efficiency initiative launched by the University of Rhode Island in 2007 has come to a close, and it has dramatically reduced the University’s impact on the environment.

Through 2009, the $18 million project reduced electricity use on campus by nearly 9 million kilowatthours, 14,000 gallons of heating oil, and about 750,000 cubic feet of natural gas. It has reduced carbon dioxide emissions from campus operations by 18 million pounds and nitrous oxide emissions by 16,000 pounds.

“We are extremely pleased and proud that this program has already generated so many significant benefits to our campuses and to the health of the environment,” said Robert Weygand, URI vice president for administration and finance. “It’s the equivalent of removing 1,900 cars from the roadways or planting 2,400 trees. It was a great team effort, and it hasn’t cost us a penny.”

The cost of the three-year contract with NORESCO, one of the nation’s leading energy services companies, will be paid over 12 years from the savings on the University’s utility bills.

The first year of the energy initiative focused on the Kingston campus, especially the Memorial Union, where 80 percent of light fixtures were replaced and the air conditioning system was upgraded, and the athletic complex, which received lighting upgrades, new windows, improvements to the heating system, and swimming pool covers.

Phase two of the project featured energy efficiency improvements to the residence halls and various installations at the URI Providence and Narragansett Bay campuses. The final year of the program focused on upgrades in the academic buildings on the Kingston campus.

A unique feature of the initiative was a behavior change campaign in the residence halls targeting the most common and most wasteful behaviors found in a survey of URI students. These included leaving computers on when not in use, leaving the heat and/or air conditioning on when leaving a room, and taking excessively long showers.

“The impact of the behavior change campaign was almost double what we expected, based on pilot projects at other universities,” said Scott Finlinson, the coordinator of the project for NORESCO.

Only 18 percent of students surveyed before the campaign indicated that they turn off their computers when not in use – most leave them on for an average of 16 hours per day — but that rate nearly doubled to 35 percent four months later. The rate of students who turn off their heat and air conditioning when leaving the room increased from 45 percent to 65 percent, while the rate of those who hibernate their computer after use went from 62 percent to 75 percent.

The success of the three-year energy conservation initiative, and the development of more energy efficient technologies, has led the University to seek additional opportunities for energy savings. NORESCO is undertaking another audit of campus facilities, which will likely lead to the installation of more lighting upgrades, occupancy censors, weatherization improvements, and other equipment to save energy.