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WKU to reduce energy usage during Conservation Vacation

WKU students, faculty and staff will unplug, turn off and shut down this week for the sixth annual Conservation Vacation.

This chart shows WKU's electrical usage for last year's winter break. The high peaks on the left side of the graph illustrate electricity used during finals week in December 2012. The low points (Dec.. 15 – Jan 2) illustrate significantly reduced use during the break. The three high peaks on the right illustrate increased use with return to campus.

This chart shows WKU’s electrical usage for last year’s winter break. The high peaks on the left side of the graph illustrate electricity used during finals week in December 2012. The low points (Dec.. 15 – Jan 2) illustrate significantly reduced use during the break. The three high peaks on the right illustrate increased use with return to campus.

Since 2008, the winter break Conservation Vacation has resulted in an energy reduction of more than 3.1 million kilowatt hours at a cost savings of about $264,000 and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,191 metric tons. Those savings/reductions are equal to the annual emissions of 457 passenger vehicles and 301 U.S. homes’ annual electricity use.

“For the Conservation Vacation, we have an opportunity to save energy while the campus is relatively unoccupied,” said Christian Ryan-Downing, WKU’s sustainability coordinator. Starting Dec. 16, WKU offices will be closed for three weeks and will reopen Jan. 6.

The annual project requires a team effort across the campus from the Office of Sustainability and the WKU Energy Management team to all campus departments, vendors and Housing and Residence Life.

“We’ve been very pleased with the results,” said John Osborne, vice president of Campus Services and Facilities. “The data shows it was well worth our efforts. We expect it to be successful again this year.”

As students check out of residence halls by this weekend, they will unplug computers, TVs, refrigerators and other electronics. As employees wrap up their work before the three-week holiday break, they will turn off power strips or unplug computers, printers, copiers and other equipment.

Facilities Management personnel will set HVAC systems to 60 degrees in buildings, will reduce interior lighting and will shut down water heaters, drinking fountains and vending machines. Lighting in most parking lots will be reduced.

“Our Conservation Vacation takes a lot of coordination,” Ryan-Downing said.

Other universities have taken notice and have contacted WKU about implementing similar measures, she said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer to turn things off during breaks, but on most campuses that is not done,” she said.

Osborne said the Conservation Vacation built upon winter break shutdowns conducted by Housing and Residence Life in campus residence halls. “When we adopted our energy policy, I asked Christian if we could expand what Housing had been doing for years to a campuswide program,” said Osborne, a former WKU Housing director.

During the first year of the Conservation Vacation, WKU achieved its goal of saving 1 million kilowatt hours. “The first year was a great learning experience,” Ryan-Downing said.

Since then, Osborne said, WKU has continued to develop its culture of conservation and improved its energy efficiency by working with Johnson Controls on an Energy Savings Performance Contract to make improvements to water systems, lighting fixtures and HVAC systems across the campus.

“That first year was phenomenal and is still one of the reasons we get contacted by other universities about our energy conservation projects,” Osborne said.

The Energy Management team is always looking for new ideas to improve efficiency or reduce WKU’s carbon footprint, he said.

Improvements planned during this year’s winter break include the addition of LED lighting in campus parking lots that will reduce energy usage by 56 percent, Ryan-Downing said. The LED project is completely funded through savings that result from efficiency and conservation measures, she said.

More: Winter break parking map.

Contact: Christian Ryan-Downing, (270) 745-2508.

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