Energy powers our lives. We use it for everything from taking hot showers to communicating with distant friends and relatives. Without it, we couldn't send emails, make phone calls, or even travel from one city to another. The World Wide Web -- perhaps one of the most defining technological innovations of our time -- would fail to exist. With this in mind, it's absolutely essential that we understand and appreciate where our energy comes from and what effects it has on our economy, society, and environment.
The United States consumes 100 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs) of energy per year, most of which comes from fossil fuels. With energy-related concerns about health, climate, ecosystems, and quality of life on the rise, energy conservation and clean energy generation are becoming increasingly important on our journey towards a sustainable future.
At Penn State's University Park campus, a District Energy system produces the steam used for heating and electricity. The system was first installed in 1929 and is currently undergoing its fourth generation of improvements. Once these improvements are complete, energy will be produced and delivered to campus at more than 80 percent efficiency. (This efficiency rate is twice that of utility power, which is produced at just 32 percent efficiency.) Plus, at twice the efficiency, Penn State's energy system consumes half the resources -- and produces half the emissions -- that it might otherwise.
The University is able to achieve this high level of efficiency because our energy production occurs close to our end users. This means that we are also able to make use of the heat that is produced as a byproduct of electricity generation. Essentially, our energy production process is modeled after the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" motto of community-supported agriculture, which seeks to limit resource inputs and reduce the overall impact on society and the environment.
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Penn State’s University Park campus purchases most of its electricity from West Penn Power (a FirstEnergy company) and produces energy in its own District Energy system. The University’s District Energy system includes both the East and West Campus Steam Plants, which produce the steam that is used to heat more than 200 buildings on
campus. Through cogeneration, this system also produces supplemental electricity for on-campus use.
At the East Campus Steam Plant, a combustion turbine connected to a heat recovery steam generator produces 7mW of electricity -- and up to 117,000 pounds of steam per hour -- at 80 percent efficiency. At the West Campus Steam Plant, steam produced in boilers is used to spin turbines that generate 3-5 mW of electricity at 50-70 percent efficiency. The amount of energy produced by these two plants is used to offset that which the University would otherwise have to purchase.
- Penn State University's 20 campuses consume a combined total of 400 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually. Of that 400 million kWh, only 355 million are purchased off the grid, while the remaining 45 million are produced "in-house" through cogeneration efforts at University steam plants.
- In fiscal year 2011-2012, Penn State campuses consumed 1,110 million cubic feet of natural gas and 51,168 tons of coal. This represents a 1/3 reduction in coal consumption from FY08-09 totals, and a near-doubling of natural gas consumption.
- By 2015, the University hopes to eliminate its use of coal entirely by switching to natural gas for steam generation. Through innovative cogeneration processes, Penn State will continue to produce a substantial amount of its own electricity.
- University Park energy consumption accounts for approximately 80% of the total energy consumption of all Penn State campuses.
What PSU is Doing
In an effort to cut costs while addressing growing environmental concerns, Penn State is taking a multitude of steps to reduce energy consumption and promote responsible energy use among students and staff. These efforts have allowed Penn State's University Park campus to decrease its electricity consumption by 7.5 percent since 2005, even with the addition of 1 million square feet of new building space. The University has also invested $56 million in its Energy Savings, Energy Conservation Measures, and Continuous Commissioning programs. Through the combined efforts of these three programs, Penn State now achieves a $7.5 million energy cost savings each year.
PSU's Energy Infrastructure
- The University Park campus has installed a natural gas combustion turbine at its East Campus Steam Plant. The turbine features a heat recovery steam boiler, which allows it to co-generate 7 megawatts of electricity and 100,000 pounds of steam per hour.
- Penn State campuses are beginning to install solar photovoltaic systems to generate electricity for their academic and administrative buildings. For example, the main building at the Delaware Valley campus gets much of its electricity from a 2000-watt solar panel.
- Many buildings now feature room occupancy sensors that turn off ceiling lights when classrooms are empty.
- Penn State has adopted an Energy Conservation Policy that aims to lower energy consumption through employee and student action.
Energy Conservation Measures
Penn State's Office of Physical Plant has performed a series of energy-saving upgrades to campus buildings in an effort to help the University cut costs:
- Winter Break Shutdown: During extended break periods like the winter holiday, Penn State conserves energy by reducing the temperature in campus buildings to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and turning lights and computers off.
- Improving steam traps
- Installing low-flow water fixtures
- Upgrading water chillers and connecting buildings to more efficient campus chilled water system
- Programming thermostats
- Upgrading/reprogramming control systems
- Switching to alternative fuels
- Using spray fields to treat water so that it can be reused
- Cleaning and flushing HVAC piping
- Installing room occupancy sensors
- Installing heat recovery equipment for building exhaust
- Replacing inefficient lighting with higher efficiency fluorescent and LED technologies
Conserving energy is everyone's responsibility -- and it's easy to do! Purchasing energy efficient appliances and using public transportation are just two examples of how you can reduce your energy footprint. Below are additional suggestions that we've tailored specifically for students and researchers:
Create a power management profile on your computer. College students in the U.S. could save more than 2.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year by enabling power saving features on their personal computers.
Close fume hood sashes when not in use. It is estimated that by appropriately closing laboratory fume hood sashes, researchers could save the University up to $500,000 annually.
We encourage you to explore the other sections of our website to learn about what Penn State is doing to improve its sustainability performance. If you have questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact us!