Even as the expansive Texas A&M University campus continues to be built up, the university's energy cost continues to drop – and multi-million-dollar annual savings are being achieved through energy-related cost avoidance. At the same time, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are markedly lower and environmentally friendly methods of waste management have significantly increased the percentage of solid waste material that is recycled and kept out of the landfill.
These accomplishments, together with a 40-percent reduction in energy consumption per square foot and more than $140 million in cost avoidance achieved over the last 10 years (from fiscal year 2002 through 2012), are welcome good news for cost-conscious Texas A&M officials. Over that 10-year period, the size of the campus increased by 25 percent, to nearly 24 million gross square feet (GSF), while real energy consumption decreased by 25 percent – resulting in the 40 percent improvement per GSF.
Texas A&M Utilities & Energy Services (UES) Department Executive Director Jim Riley said the multi-faceted initiatives have resulted in big cost-saving dividends.
"These results are impressive with great support from the campus community, but even more impressive is that customer comfort and service levels have seen measurable improvement while achieving significant improvement in efficiency of operation," Riley noted. "Although challenging to achieve, effectively stewarding resources while improving service is our primary mission."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken special note of the university's energy efficiencies resulting from the installation of a combined heating and power (CHP) system completed in 2012 that requires one-third less fuel than a typical off-campus power plant with similar output.
EPA official Gary McNeil presented the 2013 Energy Star CHP Award to Riley, together with Les Williams, UES director, and David Payne, UES associate director, at the International District Energy Association Campus Energy Conference in San Diego on Feb. 20.
"Through the recovery of otherwise-wasted heat to provide space heating, cooling and domestic hot water, Texas A&M has demonstrated exceptional leadership in energy use and management," said McNeil, who heads the CHP Partnership Program in EPA's Climate Protection Partnership Division. "Moreover, by generating electricity on site, the CHP system displaces grid-supplied power, increasing the reliability of the energy supply while reducing demands on existing transmission and distribution infrastructure."
Riley said: "Our Utilities & Energy Services Team worked for several years to complete the necessary evaluations, justification, and obtain approval to proceed with completion of the CHP upgrade. It's an honor to be selected for this major national award in recognition of our efforts here on the Texas A&M campus, knowing that the students, faculty and staff of Texas A&M are better served."
Texas A&M's student body surpassed the 50,000 milestone this past year, placing it among the seven largest universities in the nation, and its annual research budget now exceeds $700 million, also ranking it among the largest in the U.S.
"Despite the continued growth in square footage served, the university experienced a seven percent decline in energy consumption in fiscal year 2012 alone, coupled with over $6 million in cost avoidance resulting from new energy efficiencies," Riley pointed out. "On a square-footage basis, the energy consumption reduction in the past year alone was nine percent."
An additional $6 million annual cost reduction for purchased energy is projected in the upcoming fiscal year 2014, resulting from a combination of energy consumption reduction and lower energy market pricing.
Water consumption reduction on campus has also been significant, with a 30 percent reduction since 2000 – even though the square footage of facilities served has increased by close to 30 percent over the same 12 years. "There are a number of reasons for this excellent result in water consumption reduction, including more efficient operation of the utility plants, more effective water distribution system management, installation of water-saving plumbing fixtures and improved irrigation management," Riley emphasized.
Prior to 2010, the amount of solid waste that was recycled instead of being transported to a landfill was consistently less than 10 percent of the total solid waste tonnage. However, in the last three years, the diversion rate of solid waste being recycled, rather than being transported to and dumped in the landfill, increased to 50 percent in FY11 and a record 64 percent in FY12. Nathan Jones, UES manager for Water and Environmental Services, reports, "The university now consistently recycles more than 60 percent of the solid waste material from campus, which is especially notable when compared to a recycling diversion rate of less than 10 percent as recent as 2010."
"This dramatic improvement means that now close to two-thirds of the solid waste generated at the university is recycled and re-used rather than being disposed of in the regional landfill," Riley noted. "These operational and environmental improvements save money and resources, while also helping the environment and creating a more sustainable campus and society."
Utilities & Energy Services (UES) was asked by Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp to provide technical expertise and support to the other 12 Texas A&M System campuses by implementing a System-wide Energy Management Program (EMP). Riley and Williams are spearheading the EMP efforts with support from the entire UES Team. Riley explained, "The EMP is a challenging and rewarding program designed to save energy and money while improving services. It is based on building effective working relationships with the other A&M System members, providing technical support, measuring and reporting results and working closely together to achieve continuous improvement."
Looking ahead, a new $45 million capital plan to support utility production upgrades in the four campus utilities plants has been authorized at Texas A&M University, with the first phase of that capital plan being a $15.4 million production upgrade currently in design phase. The engineering firm Burns & McDonnell has been hired to complete a detailed design for this project, with construction scheduled to begin in fall 2013 and be completed in fall 2014. Second and third capital projects will follow as part of the $45 million plan. These capacity and efficiency upgrades will allow UES to effectively meet the utility and energy needs of the growing Texas A&M University campus while also continuing to improve reliability and operating efficiency.