Energy reduction methods create green milestone for Kent State

Information from Energy Conservation Project Initiatives: 2009 - 2016 and beyond. Energy Cost and Building Improvements. 

Information from Energy Conservation Project Initiatives: 2009 – 2016 and beyond. Energy Cost and Building Improvements. 

Lydia Taylor

Kent State lowered the expenses of utilities used to power campus by as much as $1.8 million annually in the past five years by implementing more sustainable, energy conservative systems, according to Kent State’s website.

Melanie Knowles, manager of sustainability in the facilities planning and operations department at Kent State’s main campus, said the push to conserve energy came with the implementation of Ohio House Bill 7, which requires colleges and universities in Ohio to reduce energy consumption up to 20 percent.

“The university needed to make changes in order to reach that goal and make the school a more energy-efficient place,” Knowles said. “We knew we could do more when it came to sustainability.”

In 2011, Kent State launched the Energy Conservation Project in order to reach the 20 percent goal. Knowles said the first step of the project was regional campuses, which reached 21 percent since the beginning of the project, exceeding the target.

The Kent campus, however, falls short of the target, sitting at just below 16 percent, according to Knowles. 

“We started with regionals first because they are slightly smaller and easier to work with,” Knowles said. “We started with residence halls on (the main) campus and have been taking it piece-by-piece since then because it’s just such a large campus.”

In residence halls, hallway light switches were replaced with light sensors. In the residence hall rooms, sensors were applied to thermostats and windows, so if a student left the room for a prolonged time or if the windows are open, the thermostats would automatically turn off to save energy and reduce costs, Knowles said.

Knowles said that in 2012 the university partnered with Brewer-Garrett Company, with a plan over the next 10 years to ensure Kent Campus exceeds the 20 percent mark by a large margin. The partnership led to Phase 1: Implement energy saving mechanisms inside academic buildings, the DeWeese Health Center, Dix Stadium and the M.A.C. Center. The project cost $25 million, according to Kent State’s website.

“All of these new implementations — like the new windows in all the buildings or the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems — all help the university save money and work more efficiently,” Knowles said.

The second action in the Energy Conservation Project was a solar ray on top of the field house, which was completed in 2014, Knowles said.

“The solar ray has actually exceeded what was predicted for it to cover,” Knowles said. “It covers about one-third of the energy used between the field house and the stadium. We plan on getting more solar rays to put on top of Kent Campus buildings in the future to save even more energy and money. Basically, we’re only paying for … two-thirds of that energy, which is a lot less.”

Knowles said the Summit Street combined heat and power plant near the university’s Student Recreation and Wellness Center supplies two-thirds of campus energy, powering air conditioning, steam and electricity.

“The power plant was one of the many great things to happen to this campus,” Knowles said. “It’s so close to campus, that there is hardly any energy lost when it the power shifts into campus. It takes a big role in energy reduction because nearly 60 percent of our energy comes from that power plant.” 

Phase 2 of the Energy Conservation Project that has yet to begin was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2012 and is the last phase for the project in order for the Kent Campus to reach 20 percent energy reduction, Knowles said.

Sean Nichols, a senior environmental conservation biology major, said even though the power plant helps save energy, it still causes a problem when it comes to the use of renewable energy and fossil fuels.

“I know a lot of sustainability projects will get shot down just because of how affordable the energy from our power plant is. While natural gas is the cleanest of all fossil fuels, it still puts plenty of carbon into the air,” Nichols said. “Kent State likes to call itself a ‘tree campus,’ but if we choose natural gas over renewable energies simply because it’s easy and cheap, maybe we should re-evaluate whether or not we deserve that title.”

Nichols said he likes most of the changes being made to conserve energy at Kent State, but it has the potential to do even more.

“I think Kent is doing a few things well, for example: The (solar ray) on top of the field house, the local power plant and the geothermal heating and cooling at the College of Architecture and Environmental Design building,” Nichols said. “I also like how all the streetlights on and around campus have been converted to LED.” 

Nichols believes the implementation of green roofs would conserve even more energy and help ramp up savings.

“Though few buildings on campus are structurally sound enough to support that extra weight, it would work wonders if it could be incorporated wherever possible,” Nichols said. “It would bring down heating and cooling costs by insulating buildings better.”

Knowles said there are two academic buildings with green roofs: Taylor Hall and the College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

“As we keep renovating the buildings on campus, we are checking to see where exactly we are able to put these green roofs and what changes we can make to the buildings as a whole in order to become a more sustainable campus,” he said.

Javier Ojeda, sophomore environmental conservation biology major and member of the Herrick Conservatory and Sustainability Club on campus, said one area tends to be overlooked is the amount of water wasted on Kent State’s campus. 

“Kent is extremely wasteful with water, particularly its students,” Ojeda said. “Students waste a tremendous amount of water in their residence halls, since they are not charged for how much water they use.”

Ojeda said the Herrick Conservatory and Sustainability Club tries to spread awareness of water waste through teaching students how to collect rainwater and how it can be used in multiple ways.

“We would like Kent as a whole to allocate more funds to resource and energy sustainability education for students,” Ojeda said. “Programs and events need to be held to educate the common student about how to maintain a green lifestyle within dorm life.” 

Knowles wrote in an email that along with other sustainability issues, Kent State is working on improving water efficiency throughout all campus buildings while renovations take place.

 

Knowles wrote the Office of Sustainability and Residence Services plans to create programs to encourage students to take on a more sustainable behavior, such as reducing water usage.

“We are currently testing messaging with signage installed this fall in six residence halls and have more plans being developed,” Knowles wrote. “Of course, these efforts extend to the entire campus, not just residence halls.”

Knowles said there are still improvements to be made, regardless of the progress on making Kent State a more sustainable and energy conservatory university. 

Lydia Taylor is a senior reporter. Contact her at [email protected]