Staff, students focus on energy efficiency efforts

Efficiency projects, changes made on campus

South Dakota State staff members have committed to creating a more energy efficient campus and improving energy conservation within past years. 

Changing the mindset and behaviors of students, staff and faculty are main areas of improvement the university has focused on, as well as projects to decrease the campus footprint.

Projects to improve energy efficiency include a replacement of two main boilers in 2011 that use natural gas instead of coal, plans for a chiller plant and switching to LED light fixtures across campus.

Luke Ganschow, the energy conservation engineer for Facilities and Services, leads the project to upgrade older buildings and light fixtures across campus. About 100 LED lights are going into the Berg Agricultural Hall this year.

SDSU isn’t the only campus to make the move to a more energy efficient environment. MIT reduced its energy footprint by 34 million kilowatt-hours per year in a collaboration project with NSTAR, Efficiency Forward. The reduced footprint saved an estimated $50 million total and prevented more than 20,000 metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to an article by Kathryn M. O’Neil, an MIT Energy Initiative correspondent.

LED upgrades are “easy to do” Ganschow said, and cut utility costs for SDSU. Ganschow sees the light fixture switches as an investment for the university. His future plans are to expand LED lights to parking lights and the lights in Frost Arena within the next five to 10 years.

SDSU alumna and sustainability intern Jennifer McLaughlin said she didn’t notice any changes to improve the energy efficiency on campus while she was a student.

“I was not aware of when things changed or efforts that were going on, and I know that’s something we’re working toward, for students and faculty, because we think it’s important,” McLaughlin said.

Students like Jacob Gubbrud, a sophomore electrical engineering major, haven’t noticed any changes made to increase energy efficiency on campus either, but Gubbrud is confident in the university’s dedication to energy efficiency.

Gubbrud took a colloquium course through the Fishback Honors College, Energy: Present Realities and Future Possibilities. In the class, he discussed different energy sources and the benefits and consequences of each. He also became involved in his own energy research and said he knows “there has been a push recently for more research at SDSU to address the energy issues in our world today.”

In the future, McLaughlin would like to see a larger use of renewable resources for energy.

SDSU gets the majority of its electricity from Western Area Power Administration (WAPA). The energy supplied by WAPA is hydropower. Once SDSU uses up an allocated amount from WAPA, the rest of the energy is provided by Heartland.

Under the current electric contract, SDSU can’t generate electricity on campus unless it is for research or educational purposes, but Ganschow said this does not prevent it from being changed in the future.

SDSU staff and faculty have made recent efforts to educate students and the Brookings community about energy efficiency and conservation. Ganschow wrote columns about energy conservation in The Collegian this academic year but hopes to do more outreach projects to students and the community.

Gubbrud thought SDSU is doing well educating students “to the best of their ability” about energy conservation. Gubbrud said ways to increase awareness across campus even more would be to bring in speakers on energy conservation, hold other events to raise awareness and put up signs in rooms reminding people to take simple actions like turning the lights off.

“One of the many ways I try and conserve energy and hold myself accountable is through simply having my blinds open during the day when the sun is out, rather than turning on my lights,” Gubbrud said. “This may seem simple, but over the long term it can dramatically decrease lighting expenses per room.”

Keeping the heat a few degrees cooler during the winter and unplugging appliances when they are not being used are some of the methods McLaughlin uses to conserve energy.

In one of Ganschow’s columns in The Collegian, he encouraged students to not raise or lower the thermostat thinking it might heat or cool faster if it’s a few degrees more. He listed other actions students can take to be more energy conservative.

“We can have as efficient lighting, heating and air conditioning systems we want, but … it definitely needs to be a mutual effort as far as the operation side of buildings and as well as occupants to achieve the goal of being the most energy efficient,” Granshaw said.

McLaughlin said she thinks energy conservation and commitment from everyone is important for the future of the planet.

“I think it’s really important because we only have a finite amount of resources on our planet,” McLaughlin said, “and as we start to see the end of those resources we just are realizing how we can maximize our use.”