By Mimi Pieper, Student Sustainability Coordinator and Becs Walker, Director of Sustainability
In a continuing effort towards promoting sustainability and responsible energy consumption, Southern Oregon University (SOU) has embraced the Energy STAR Portfolio Manager program as a student-led initiative. Energy STAR, a well-established industry standard, offers advanced tools for energy monitoring, efficiency tracking, and targeted enhancements, marking a significant stride in the university’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
Energy STAR Portfolio Manager integration at SOU equips the campus with an advanced energy monitoring system that provides insights into energy consumption patterns across the campus by tracking energy use and energy efficiency of SOU’s buildings. This data-driven approach empowers students, faculty, and administration to make informed decisions regarding energy use and identify potential areas for improvement. With an accurate understanding of energy consumption, the university community can work collaboratively to optimize energy usage. By tracking energy efficiency improvements, SOU can celebrate its achievements and continually refine its sustainability strategies for even greater impact
Image above: This graph shows the energy efficiency score for SOU for electric and gas for the financial years 2018 through to 2023. The lower the score the better the energy efficiency. 2018: Electric 8.13, Gas 9.08; 2019: Electric 7.19, Gas 9.4; 2020: Electric 10.98, Gas 9.6; 2021: Electric 10.98, Gas 8.35; 2022: Electric 13.14, Gas 8.64; 2023: 9.18, 8.78
According to data from Business Energy Advisor, the average energy consumption of colleges and universities in the US is 18.9 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 17 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot (ft2) of floorspace each year.
Analysis of historical electrical energy data for SOU using Energy STAR Portfolio Manager reveals that SOU’s electrical energy efficiency (the amount of electricity used per square foot) consistently remains significantly below the average consumption of other universities. Furthermore, using the historical gas energy data available, Energy STAR shows that SOU’s gas energy efficiently is also significantly below the national average. This is due to the large scale and coordinated efforts to reduce usage across campus. SOU recognizes the detrimental effect gas consumption has on the environment, and is proactively attempting to reduce usage.
Where some of it is good news; we still have many areas to improve. Whether it’s optimizing lighting systems, upgrading HVAC systems, or adopting renewable energy sources, Energy STAR provides actionable insights that drive meaningful change. Furthermore, Energy STAR Portfolio Manager provides feedback on upgrades previously made. For example, in 2019 two new boilers were installed in the Heat Plant, and using Energy STAR Portfolio Manager tracking, the campus tracked nearly a 20% decrease in energy intensity over three years!
SOU also uses Energy STAR Portfolio Manager to monitor progress towards achieving its Energy Efficiency goal to improve energy efficiency by 25% within the next 10 years. SOU has made this commitment in its Climate Action Plan and through Department of Energy’s Better Climate Challenge.
By adopting Energy STAR Portfolio Manager, SOU aligns itself with an industry standard that is recognized and respected nationwide. Energy STAR is a program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. This decision not only sets a positive example for other academic institutions but also showcases the university’s dedication to minimizing its carbon footprint and contributing to a cleaner, greener future.
In conclusion, SOU’s integration of the Energy STAR Portfolio Manager program signifies a significant step towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Through energy monitoring, efficiency tracking, and targeted improvements, the university community can collectively work towards reducing energy consumption and promoting responsible practices. By adhering to the Energy STAR standards, SOU solidifies its position as a forward-thinking institution dedicated to both academic excellence and environmental consciousness.