Survey Shows Nebraska U Is Among the Best in Energy Use and Cost | Nebraska today


Employee-led focus on sustainability in facilities, maintenance, and operations saves millions of dollars annually and keeps University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s energy consumption lower than that of its counterpart institutions.

According to an annual review by third-party consultant Gordian, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s consumption of electricity and fossil fuels is lower than that of comparable peer institutions, including other Big Ten partners. Facilities, Maintenance, and Operations Energy Services has achieved this through its commitment to providing safe, smart, and reliable spaces that enable the university to accomplish its teaching and research missions by being sustainable, economical, reliable, and resilient.

Gordian is a data, software and services company that partners with more than 450 colleges and universities across the country to provide an analytical framework that measures current standing and operational performance against peer institutions.

Energy Services, which is a close collaboration between utilities and maintenance of building systems, strives to constantly improve energy efficiency through a layered approach – which ranges from manufacturing its own room controls and from the development of a centralized energy system to the development of a technically complex plant system and investing in energy storage.

While enrollment and research spending has increased on campus, the work has improved the university’s energy efficiency by 40% since 2004. The university’s energy-saving measures have combined to an avoided cost of $9 million in 2020. Overall, the measures saved more than $85 million. over the past 17 years, said Kirk Conger, a mechanical engineer and energy project manager for building systems maintenance.

“These savings remove some budget pressure from other academic departments, which drives progress in other programs and facilities,” Conger said.

Smart investments

To achieve these levels of efficiency, “we have invested in more efficient equipment over the past 20 years,” said Lalit Agarwal, executive director of operations at the university.

Highly efficient systems mean that the campus gets the desired benefit (safe, reliable and comfortable campus) with less input energy. They help the budget by reducing fuel bills paid to our electricity and gas suppliers and reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to meet campus energy needs.

“We started thinking from a total cost of ownership mindset, rather than just focusing on the lowest initial cost,” Agarwal said. “AT ONE we have done a good job of integrating this part of our DNA, we think about energy first to ensure that the choices we make will lead to these energy optimizations.

For example, the university invested $11.9 million in its City Campus thermal energy storage tank, which went live in 2018. The 8.3 million gallon tank is designed to operate as a battery by cooling and storing water during periods of low demand, then using chilled water to cool the campus during periods of high energy demand.

This operation was designed to level out electricity demand and costs. Savings are expected to be between $850,000 and $900,000 per year, and current energy savings are approximately $1 million per year, meaning the tank will pay for itself in approximately 15 years.

The university was one of the first in the Big 10 to adopt thermal storage tanks. He acquired his first smaller tank on the east campus in 2012.

reliable energy

The 42% of the campus dedicated to science and research depends on energy services, which means that power outages could have serious consequences. To reduce any potential problems and in pursuit of the goal of a reliable and responsive energy system, the campus has backup generators to keep necessary projects and buildings in good working order.

The university receives its energy from local sources. Lincoln Electric System provides electricity, while Black Hills Energy provides natural gas. Other sources—such as hydroelectricity from government-owned dams in the Rocky Mountains that were awarded to the university long ago—also supply campus power needs.

Most buildings are served by power plants rather than individual systems within the buildings. This saves time, labor and money.

The university also has the ability to pre-purchase energy resources from companies to reduce costs and has back-up systems such as the aforementioned generators and No. 2 oil back-up for the central plant boilers.

“We haven’t had any total utility outages,” Conger said. “Even during the Uri winter storm, we only experienced an hour-long blackout in a few buildings around campus.”

During the 2021 Uri winter storm, widespread blackouts, blackouts, and rising electricity prices plagued citizens and university campuses across the country.

Amid the crisis, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s strategic planning and flexibility succeeded. The university only experienced the partial blackout and power plants were able to switch from limited and expensive natural gas to #2 fuel oil for a week. Switching to emergency fuel saved about $4 million during the storm.


According to Gordian, the university has the most technically advanced campus buildings in the Big Ten, in terms of the number and sophistication of automated controls. Control programs are at the forefront of applying best practice algorithms and designing new algorithms.

The university operates buildings, large HVAC equipment and individual rooms through its building automation system. Controls and software are designed and manufactured on campus. No other university does. Since the university manufactures its own controls, it is able to install smart thermostats in almost any room on campus. This allows occupants in each room to set temperatures to their liking, and control programs automatically adjust temperatures in vacant rooms to save energy. This is more efficient and comfortable than other systems where three to five rooms or even entire buildings are set to the same temperature.

Advanced sensors also enable efficient responses to energy needs and proactive maintenance. For example, staff members can replace filters when they are actually dirty rather than on a pre-set schedule, such as every six months, which reduces landfill waste.

Dedicated staff

Facility maintenance and operations personnel are essential to the continued health and well-being of ONEteaching, programs, research and community members. They are considered nationally as innovators and have won several awards for their efforts, including AICC 2015 Engineering Excellence Award for the CRES system and 2019 for the City Campus thermal energy storage plant. Although automation has reduced the need for 24-hour staff in some areas, this innovation is the result of hours of research, hard work and genuine passion on the part of FMO employees. Today, the concerted efforts of staff members focus on monitoring, maintaining and improving energy systems.

“Having separate groups that manage energy use in building operations and utility plants allows us to focus our expertise and maximize those individual systems,” said Aaron Evans, supervisor of the engineering for utilities. “It is essential that we work together to have a holistic view of the needs of the campus community. The close working relationships we have developed have not only benefited our day-to-day operations, but have helped us collaborate on long-term strategies that will propel us toward achieving goals such as those set out in the Sustainability Master Plan. .

For the operation of the buildings, four to six highly experienced engineers or operators supervise and improve the systems on a daily basis. They are supported by 15 system designers, programmers and field technicians.

The utility plant has 46 full-time employees who actively manage the equipment to serve the campus. The team includes pipefitters, mechanics, engineers and safety coordinators.

Staff members also recognize the value of collaboration. They consult with control operators, designers, programmers and planners from other universities to share their experiences, successes and failures. This allows them to keep moving forward to provide the most reliable and efficient systems possible.

Looking forward

While Energy Services is always looking to the future in terms of innovation, efficiency, reliability and cost savings, it is also focused on an important goal set out in the university’s sustainability plan, that all buildings achieve net zero energy consumption by 2050.

By improving its energy efficiency by 40% since 2004, the university has already started to reduce its energy consumption and therefore its carbon footprint. Energy Services continues to improve efficiency across campus and through small changes such as replacing light bulbs with LEDs lighting and reducing energy leakage around windows and doors also help reduce energy consumption.

Using allocated hydroelectricity, renewable energy from the Lincoln Electric System, and thermal energy storage reservoirs, 74% of the university’s electricity now comes from renewable resources. However, due to the use of natural gas, fossil fuels still make up 66% of the university’s total energy consumption.

“To get to net zero, we need a step change in the way we do things,” Conger said. “As we begin to approach these goals, we are looking for creative ways to do so at the lowest possible cost. We ask ourselves “what are the new technologies” such as geothermal energy and other renewable sources, which we could exploit to replace the use of natural gas. »


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