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October 10, 2005

Rising utility costs spur call for conservation

Soaring utility costs are hitting the campus hard, prompting calls for conservation as the academic year gets under way and the heating season nears.

"Electricity and natural gas prices were rising before the recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast," said Ilse Kolbus, director of the UCSC Physical Plant. "When you couple rate increases with increases in consumption as the campus grows, we've got a problem," she said.

"The campus can expect to be $800,000 in deficit by the end of the year," Kolbus said. "Although the UCSC community has a very good record at conservation, we need everyone to make a significant effort to reduce their energy usage even further."

Electricity costs are 25 percent higher than last year, and natural gas prices have climbed 24 percent, Kolbus said. Natural gas prices have a ripple effect on electricity prices since many power plants convert electricity from natural gas. "The gas market was supposed to stabilize, but it never has--it's continued to churn," Kolbus said.

Adding to the problem for UCSC are double-digit increases in water and sewer rates.

An upcoming energy awareness campaign will include posting building-specific consumption rates, disseminating the costs of running specific pieces of equipment, and a conservation program for students living on campus. Until those efforts get under way, the Physical Plant is offering several suggestions to help reduce energy consumption immediately, including:

• Eliminate the use of space heaters. Each one uses one kilowatt of power per hour. Flat panel leg warmers or foot warmers can be substituted and use far less energy (approximately 100 watts). These will soon be available for purchase from Physical Plant shop stores at a reduced rate of approximately $50. Better yet, in cold weather, dress warmly and in layers that can be adjusted for optimal comfort.

• Keep thermostats down. Where thermostats are not centrally controlled, maintain a maximum of 68 degrees or below for heating, and a minimum of 78 degrees or above for cooling. (This includes all computer/server areas on campus, except where required by the equipment manufacturer or where specific research needs can be demonstrated.)

• Keep use of electrical appliances to a minimum. For example, after brewing coffee, place the remainder in a thermal decanter and turn off the coffee pot. Unplug water coolers that heat or cool water. Use microwave ovens instead of hotplates for heating water. All appliances should be turned off when not needed.

• Turn off unused and unnecessary lighting. When you leave a room, turn off the lights. Everyone should be involved in turning off lights that have been left on and are not needed. If lights in your area have faulty occupancy sensors, call the work order desk at (831) 459-4444 and a lighting technician can remedy the problem, saving energy and providing a more comfortable work environment.

• Rethink your lighting needs. If your location has windows, assess how well natural light will work for you. If possible, use task lighting and turn off overhead lights. “Delamping” can save energy and improve glare on computer monitors. If overhead lights are more than what’s needed, Physical Plant electricians can remove unneeded lamps to achieve the desired effect. Units should give a broad assessment of areas to be delamped to prevent multiple call-outs for electricians to re-lamp. While keeping exit safety in mind, hallway lighting should be kept to a minimum.

Turn off office equipment that is not being used, such as printers and copiers. (It is unnecessary to turn off new equipment that is DOE Energy Star certified, as these units have been designed to significantly reduce energy consumption during periods of inactivity). At the conclusion of the workday, shut down office and other equipment for the evening.

Turn off computers when not in use. Computing equipment draws roughly one-third the electricity used in a typical office. Disable screen saver programs that draw pictures on idle computers and instead enable the energy or power management control panel to turn off the screen after a brief period of inactivity. At the end of the workday, shut down unused computers and switch off their outlet strips; this will save the 9-16 watts they consume even while off. Adopt systems that don't require computers to be left on all the time. Use laptop computers instead of desktop computers whenever possible since they draw 80-90 percent less energy and accomplish the same tasks. The ergonomic problems of laptops can be solved with simple stands and an external keyboard and mouse. Computer labs should be completely dark and switched off when closed. Purchasing decisions for computer equipment should consider their energy demands; monitors in particular have widely differing electricity consumption for similar products.

• Consider replacing and consolidating refrigerators. Small refrigerators carry a significant load. Units should consider replacing older or outdated models with a larger energy-efficient refrigerator

• Keep fume hood sashes closed whenever possible in laboratories. This reduces the load on building exhaust fans and supply fans considerably.

Additional energy conservation tips can be found at the Physical Plant web site, Utility Management section.

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