Energy conservation efforts on campus

Conserving electricity can be as simple as hitting the light switch when you exit an empty room or turning off a computer when leaving a work space. It is the small things that add up quickly yet remain habitual across campus.

While waiting to enter a building at Northern Kentucky University it is common to see someone push the button to activate the automatic door. Many of them do not have anything in their hands, they are not in a wheelchair nor do they appear to have any inhibiting disability.

Handicap accessibility buttons are there for a reason. They are for people with mobility challenges, allowing them to enter and exit buildings with ease. The buttons are also helpful to those carrying particularly heavy or awkward items.

They are not designed for everyday use from multiple people.

Every time a handicap door opener is pushed at NKU it racks up the amount in energy costs for the University.

According to the Presidents Climate Commitment Task Force at NKU, if one person uses the button four times a day, it generates less than two cents in electrical costs per time. If the campus is in full swing and multiple people are hitting the automatic door openers, imagine what the level of energy usage might cost.

On top of the initial use of energy from the automatic doors, there is a loss of heating and air conditioning from the extended time the doors remain open, generating an even greater cost.

The doors remain open for 20 seconds, allowing heating or cooling, depending on the season, to blast out quickly.

Kohrs Lonneman Heil (KLH) Engineers, a firm located in Fort Thomas that offers energy solutions and quality innovations, have estimated that the average cost of energy loss due to the use of one automatic door is equivalent to two cents.

With that in mind, using the same calculations as previously mentioned, someone who pushes the automatic door button four times a day uses eight cents plus the electricity to operate the doors being used.

Pennies can quickly become dollars, costing the University roughly $7,025 per week in extra energy expenses depending on the number of people routinely misusing the automated doors.

NKU students and faculty can make a difference in the use of campus electricity at minimal expense to their own energy.

According to Facilities Management Vice President Larry Blake, electricity is NKU’s most expensive and largest utility. Conservation efforts are primarily focused on all utilities

Blake urges NKU students and faculty to do their part in conserving the energy used on campus in order to reduce the budgetary difficulties NKU has experienced for the last few years.

“The problem seems so large that often we think individual actions can’t impact the bottom line,” said Blake. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Blake said the goal in mind is to reduce energy consumption by 10 to 20 percent overall.

“We are striving to reach carbon neutrality by 2050,” Blake said.  “We have significantly reduced our carbon footprint [amount of carbon contributed to the atmosphere] over the past four years – about five percent.”

When strolling to class or heading into the office it is common that you see people hitting the automatic door button instead of simply reaching for the door.

During a five-minute observation of the first-floor entrance to the Math, Education and Psychology Center at noon on Thursday, April 4, eight out of 16 people chose to hit the handicap button.

During a similar observation of the third floor entrance to Steely Library at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 16, seven out 16 people chose to hit the handicap button on entrance.

Around noon on that same Tuesday, 12 out of 20 people hit the handicap door opener at the front entrance to the Student Union and seven out of 12 people hit the button while entering Griffin Hall.

This research shows that collectively 53.1 percent of people entering buildings on campus misuse the handicap button.

“It is easy for people to just hit that button when they approach the door,” said Sean Crowley, junior mechanical engineering major. “It has just become a habit for many, a habit that could easily be broken with a risen awareness.”

Senior mathematics major Catherine Lykins said she occasionally hits the handicap button when she is in a rush or at times when she is trying to help out others in passing.

“Sometimes it is just easier to hit the button quickly,” Lykins said. “Knowing that opening doors myself will help to save energy, I will try to use it less often.”

There are many other ways in which students and faculty can play their part in energy conservation at NKU.

Taking the stairs can not only improve the health of your heart, but it can also decrease electrical energy usage. Every time an elevator button is pushed at NKU, it costs the campus two and a half cents.

According to Facilities Management, turning off the lights when you are the last one to leave a room or if you are going to be away from your office for more than ten minutes can save 20 percent of electricity costs.

As stated by the Sierra Club, one of the oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organizations in the U.S., artificial light accounts for approximately 44 percent of the electricity used in office buildings and studies have shown that free, natural light can actually brighten your mood.

Turning off computers in labs when they are not in use can save 400 watts per computer. Even in sleep mode, 100 watts can be saved.

Studies conducted through the Sierra Club have shown that 60 percent of the energy used to run an entire desktop comes from the monitor alone.

Don’t forget to turn off your computers when leaving for the day and try to shut off computer monitors when not in use.

NKU has a number of initiatives in place in effort to reduce energy consumption.

Throughout campus there is now retrofit lighting with lower wattage and more efficient fluorescent lamps.

The University Drive garage has been completely retrofit with LED lighting. The electric consumption for the garage is now less than half of what it was previously.

More efficient designing is incorporated into new buildings and renovations. For example the roof installed on the MEP building is a “cool roof,” constructed with white material that reflects heat in the summer. This will reduce the cooling cost of the building by five to seven percent.

The design for the new Campus Recreation Center includes geothermal heating and cooling. Geothermal will be used to heat the water for the pool and to cool about 15 percent of the building in the summer.

The installation of a solar electric generating system is also in the works in the building to the north of the Nunn Drive entrance to campus. This outlay begins a study that will, hopefully, develop the technology necessary to use solar power as more of a reasonable return on investment.

With new and steady initiatives, NKU can see change in the amount of energy consumption.

Everyone has the ability to play a part in the upswing of conservation, helping both the University and the environment. It can be as easy as taking the stairs, flipping a light switch or opening a door.

“Each of us is important to NKU’s future,” said Blake. “Its budgetary health and its sustainable future.”