Mar 3, 2009

Energy Efficient

by Kerah Kemmerer

A 40 percent increase in this past year’s utility bill prompted Liberty to consider implementing alternative sources of energy in order to reduce costs and educate students on energy stewardship.

The reason for the sudden increase was not from a boost in usage, but rather a raise in cost from utility provider Appalachian Power (AEP), according to Director of Auxiliary Services Lee Beaumont. The overall cost increase is due to the size of Liberty University and its 15MW annual energy usage.

To decrease the cost, several practical energy solutions are being considered.

The options being weighed include the use of wind power, solar panels, a hydroelectric plant on the James River and a biomass system, which would use the waste generated by the campus and woodchipsx to produce energy from various garbage sources, according to Robert Carlberg, who works with the Network Construction Department. This would include woodchips and other organic matter. The system would eliminate the yearly cost of waste removal from campus while reducing the amount of garbage dumped in the landfill.

“As we wean ourselves off of our huge electric bill, that is where we will see our return on investment in renewable energy sources,” Beaumont said. “Going forward — that’s where we will save millions of dollars.”

One issue with biomass system is the dilemma of where to build it. No prime location has been determined. Wind-powered options may not be practical as initial studies have shown there is not enough wind on Liberty property to justify an investment due to Lynchburg’s geographical location, according to Beaumont.

“You (have) to look at a lot of different options,” Beaumont said. “For example, we are trying to pick out a dorm where we can put solar panels on to heat the water in there. We want to see what our return on that investment is.”

The use of solar panels is a viable option, but only in addition to other methods, according to Beaumont.

“You can’t just slap a couple hundred solar panels on and think that it will take care of everything,” Beaumont said.

There is a practical and educational aspect to the energy solution issue.

“It is a multi-pronged approach,” Carlberg said. “Not only are we trying to generate our own electricity, we are also going to be participating in educating students (on) how to reduce their overall energy consumption.”

He believes this increased awareness of energy consumption will help students as they step out into “the real world” and begin paying for their own utility bills.

Beaumont points to the academic opportunities by noting that engineering students could be involved in internships through the maintenance of an energy system, while law students will have a chance to deal with the legislative process.

“There are lot of moving parts to this sort of thing,” Beaumont said. “We want to see more interaction between what we do here on the building and construction side with (what is done on) the academic side.”

The legislative process slows the progress considerably and it can take years to get a permit to build, according to Beaumont.

Liberty has hired lobbyist Ralph L. “Bill” Axselle Jr. to deal with the issues of energy bills and to ensure that Liberty’s interests are represented.

When people live in a land of plenty, many overlook small steps like turning off lights or a computer when leaving a room, or unplugging an item not in use, according to Carlberg. When in sleep mode a computer will draw 1-6 watts, according to Beaumont.

“There are approximately 6000 or more computers on campus,” Carlberg said. “Based on an average power consumption of 250 watts, that is the equivalent of 1.5 Megawatts of power being consumed when they are all turned on.”

Carlberg also said that server rooms use a significant amount of power and it is estimated that 2 percent of the nation’s power load comes from data center usage. He believes this to be true of Liberty’s campus as well.

Two steps Liberty has already taken are the use of lower energy light bulbs and painting the roofs white.

“Nothing that we do is without impact,” Carlberg said.

The LaHaye Ice Center utilizes a sophisticated technology to produce daily reports on temperature and humidity levels to maintain the ice with less waste. Simple actions like shutting the lights off during closed hours also add to the $30,000-a-year savings in costs, according to Kirk Handy, director of Club Sports, and Rett McGibbon, ice maintenance supervisor.

The energy solution is not intended to be a short-term fix.

Theoretically, students could soon be running extension cords out their windows to plug in their new Chevy Volts, the latest chargeable hybrid, according to Beaumont. He said that planning to accommodate new technologies is an essential aspect of the issue.

“The next 10 years (are) going to be very interesting in the life of a student, and the life of a university in regards to how we integrate these newer technologies into everyday life and move forward with it,” Beaumont said.

Contact Kerah Kemmerer at
kkemmerer@liberty.edu.

 


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