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University of Oklahoma completes energy upgrade effort

The University of Oklahoma recently completed an energy retrofit at its Norman campus designed to save the university millions of dollars in energy costs over the next 20 years.
by Adam Wilmoth Published: December 1, 2012

Even the vending machines at the University of Oklahoma have received an education.

The university has upgraded its pop and candy machines with smart sensors that detect when people are nearby. Otherwise, the 203 machines throughout the Norman campus go dark, saving the university $250,000 a year in energy costs.

The upgraded munchie dispensers are part of a $16 million effort to reduce OU's energy consumption. The university partnered with Johnson Controls for much of the effort.

As part of the project that began in 2007, the university also improved or replaced 1,400 exit signs and 93,000 fluorescent lights and ballasts, improved the air flow systems at five buildings and insulated a metal roof.

In all, the upgrades are saving about $1.2 million a year, for a total of $30 million over 20 years, said Brian Ellis, OU's facilities management director.

“The point is that we are being a good steward of the university and are having a historical view on what we do,” Ellis said. “The difference between what we're doing here and a regular office building or a house is that we're looking at a 100-year impact on the decisions we make and what we put into these buildings. This university will be here long after you or I or anyone on this campus is gone.”

Besides energy savings, the conservation effort also has looked to lower water consumption.

As part of that effort, OU replaced faucets and toilets throughout campus with low-flow fixtures, which together save enough water to fill 24 Olympic-size swimming pools each year, Ellis said.

OU also installed smart electric meters in each building, providing Ellis' office with far more information on how much energy is used and at what time.

“We're going to start getting data in real time. That means we'll be able to see the ebb and flow of electricity usage, especially in the summertime,” Ellis said. “We'll be able to identify opportunities by watching the data to see when demand is happening. There may be certain activities that we can schedule around peak hours.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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