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.
“But right now, we have no idea. We’re shooting in the dark. The more information we have, it can influence to a greater degree our decisions for the future.”
The energy efficiency effort also has gained student support.
As part of the program, students can sign a “Crimson and Green” pledge to look for ways to conserve energy.
“It helps students think about the things they can be doing,” said Brooke Holleman, a green initiatives coordinator for the University of Oklahoma Student Association. “A lot of them are surprised by the good things they are already doing and the easy things they can do.”
OU’s conservation effort began in 2007 when President David Boren signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which pledged that the university would be carbon neutral by 2020.
Besides the building and lighting improvements, OU also recently completed a new $70 million power plant, boiler and chiller complex south of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, across from the dormitories.
About 70 buildings on OU’s main Norman campus receive heat and cooling from steam and chilled water. The new facility will replace the existing 1947-era plant near the middle of campus.
“Technology has come a long way since 1947,” Ellis said. “We’re really excited about the capabilities and efficiencies the new plant is going to bring to our campus.”
When the plant is fully operational, it is expected to save the university about $1.5 million annually in energy costs and an additional $1 million to $2 million annually in operational and maintenance costs, Ellis said.
“Universities have long been innovators and leaders in industry and technology,” Ellis said. “By demonstrating some of the things that are possible, we can influence the community and country.”