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Interns Conserve Energy—and Save Thousands in the Process

Sydney Power in the campus heating plant
Author: 
Sarah Freske ’18
Publication date: 
September 28, 2017

Sydney Bauer '19, Jordan, worked with the Office of Sustainability and Jan Broemmelhaus, a J-1 student intern from Ahaus, Germany, to track the campus's electricity usage. Facilities Management staff are using the data to cut energy consumption, saving electricity and money in the process.

While the majority of electricity used on campus is produced onsite by renewable sources like wind turbines and solar panels, Morris requires some external sources of energy. This generally happens when the demand for electricity spikes past the energy level that the campus can produce at a given time.

Broemmelhaus created a model of the campus's energy grid. Using this information, Bauer collected information on energy usage throughout the day to predict when spikes in energy occurred. Already, this information has improved energy savings on campus.

"In the past we've usually had a big spike of electricity demand in the afternoon, but we didn't know all of the factors influencing it," says Bauer. "Our team has learned how to turn on the electric chillers in a way to reduce peaking. During my internship I installed software that will help us monitor the peak during the day."

These chillers, responsible for providing air-conditioning across campus, were typically powered on when the demand for electricity was already high, creating added demand.. To solve this issue, staff at the heating plant no longer turn on the electric chillers during peak electricity times, which can be more closely monitored now. The team is also exploring ways to use absorption chilling and the back-pressure steam turbine to further reduce campus peaks.

Sydney Bauer

This work contributes to campus energy and planning efforts, which may include future investments in more solar panels. Bauer explained that one of the most important aspects of this project to her was the opportunity to build connections between different offices and groups across campus.

"We're trying to develop an overall model of how our campus uses energy," she says. "Morris has a unique campus with lots of energy inputs, so there are opportunities to lower costs and carbon. It's fun to be a part of the Morris team working to figure this all out."

Through the efforts of Bauer and Broemmelhaus, the staff at the heating plant, and administrative offices, the campus has saved thousands of dollars that previously would have been spent on electricity.

"Morris is definitely a living and learning laboratory," says Vice Chancellor of Finance and Facilities Bryan Herrmann. "And our amazing students are key collaborators in the experiments we are running to optimize our microgrid."

For more information about Morris's sustainability efforts, visit morris.umn.edu/sustainability.