Energy savings at Appalachian State University – making strides toward a just and sustainable future

Sustainability at Appalachian State University is not a trend, it is a tradition. We are active stewards of our state’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources. Through engaged scholarship, we balance critical, creative and global thinking in a living laboratory, transforming theory into practice and fostering responsible citizenship. – Statement of Sustainability in Appalachian’s strategic plan

BOONE—On Earth Day, April 22, 2008, Appalachian State University officially joined over 500 colleges and universities by signing the American College and Universities Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The ACUPCC encourages higher education institutions to take a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by implementing:

  • LEED® building standards
  • increasing energy efficiency
  • developing renewable energy
  • expanding education and research in climate change related issues.

Physical Plant Engineer Jerry Marshall recently documented the energy advances Appalachian has made since that time and recognized the physical plant employees for “the knowledge, the skill, the time, and yes, quite often the muscle and sweat that was essential in making it all work.”

Appalachian has reported a savings of more than $29 million between 2007 and 2016 in avoided energy and water costs, “moving from 155,000 BTUs per square foot at our peak to just over 93,000 today and from 36 gallons of water per square foot to just over 16 gallons,” Marshall said. “That’s an energy reduction of 40 percent and a water reduction of 51 percent.”

According to Marshall, Appalachian completed most of its energy conservation program by obtaining state and federal grants of more than $600,000 and by completing three energy saving performance contracts at a cost of more than $21 million dollars. The cost of the contracts is paid for out of the savings that have been generated.

Marshall credits the leadership of Physical Plant Director Mike O’Connor for this success. “[He’s] why our physical plant team continues to set the standard for efficiency in North Carolina.”

According to Marshall, Appalachian has implemented these improvements:

  • replaced tens of thousands of energy intensive light fixtures with new, more efficient technology including thousands of LEDs. Today, 21 campus buildings are close to 100 percent LED-outfitted and approximately another two dozen are partially LED-outfitted. Additionally, nearly 90 percent of the exterior lighting on campus has been converted to LED.
Heating and Cooling
  • replaced thousands of outdated, obsolete HVAC pneumatic controls with new state-of-the-art digital controls. Today, 67 campus buildings have some level of digital controls installed which increase the efficiency of monitoring and controlling temperatures, allow more accurate energy management and improved data analytics.
  • installed dozens of new variable frequency (speed) drives on fan and pump motors all around campus
  • re-programmed campus HVAC systems to use less energy at night when buildings are vacant and in some cases even during the day when specific rooms are not being used
  • implemented heavy setbacks in temperature controls (dropping the overnight heat to 55 degrees rather than to 65 degrees) and even total shutdowns to reduce energy use when the campus is empty during the annual winter holiday breaks
  • modified temperature settings in most campus buildings so that thermostats are consistent with one other and with the North Carolina Energy code, which requires warmer temperature settings in the summer and cooler in the winter
  • replaced inefficient chillers, boilers and other old equipment with new, more efficient models
  • installed water saving fixtures and devices in all campus buildings
  • established written guidelines for energy efficient construction and renovation so that new buildings will keep pace with Appalachian’s goals for efficiency and sustainability