The Maneater

Recent awards recognize MU’s sustainability and green energy efforts

The university ranks high in several national rankings and has made progress in solar and wind energy on campus.

MU was recently recognized for its work with renewable energy with the Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s the latest recognition of the university’s effort to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The university has been twice recognized as an Energy Star Partner of the Year and won the Energy Star Combined Heat and Power Award, both EPA awards. All of those, in addition to the prestigious System of the Year Award from the International District Energy Association that MU received earlier this year, have put the university in the upper tier of institutions when it comes to sustainability and energy efficiency.

“[IDEA] is huge,” director of energy management for campus facilities Gregg Coffin said. “it represents 23 different countries and around 200 members, so that’s some international recognition for our reliability, efficiency and sustainability.”

Those three values — reliability, efficiency and sustainability — are the driving force and goal behind the university’s environmental efforts.

Sustainability has been a focus for the last five years or so. One of the university’s landmark projects in that area was a biomass boiler installed in 2013 that provides steam and water to campus, an alternative to less renewable energy sources such as coal.

“The boiler uses wood residues from milling operations,” Coffin said. “Missouri’s got a lot of wood product industries. They make everything from regular timber. The waste product from those wood operations, we buy through a processor and use it for fuel. We produce quite a bit of energy for campus with that.”

The university has also pursued solar and wind energy; solar panels were installed in 2012 at both the power plant and the research reactor, and solar thermal heating systems have provided for more efficient heating at Brooks and Gateway halls. A single wind turbine was also installed simultaneously with the solar panels in 2012, built south of University of Hospital.

“It’s not a large turbine, but it does help us learn a bit more about wind energy in this area, and helps educators, students and faculty, since we do a lot of tours of that turbine,” Coffin said.

With these new energy forms comes an effort to push energy conservation and efficiency on campus. New systems of lighting, heating and cooling all help save not only energy, but money as well.

“We’re using higher-efficiency lighting technologies,” Coffin said. “We automate the healing and cooling systems and optimize them. We change out components to more efficient ones, things like motors and coils. We also deal with energy standards and design so that when campus builds a new building or renovates a building, the most efficient energy standards are in place. We’ve been very successful; we’ve reduced the energy consumption by 21 percent per square foot in educational spaces.”

Reduced energy consumption in academic buildings since 1990 has been economically beneficial for the university, as it has saved nearly $9.5 million annually in utility costs and $85 million cumulatively.

Not only is less energy being used, but more and more of it is becoming renewable as well. Currently, 37 percent of energy on campus is in a renewable form, whether it be biomass, solar or wind, and coal consumption has been reduced by 73 percent. As a result, MU’s release of greenhouse gases has been lowered by more than 50 percent since 2008.

The EPA’s Green Power Partnership, which presented MU with the leadership award, ranks MU sixth in the nation among major institutions for its use of “green” electric energy, behind such companies as Walmart and Apple.

Thanks to its projects of sustainability and new energy efficiency systems, MU has performed well in national standards tests such as the Sustainability Tracking and Rating System. The university is one of 76 universities to earn a ‘gold’ STARS rating, and one of two in the SEC, along with the University of Georgia. A total of 368 universities are a part of STARS.

“My role here as a sustainability manager is benchmarking for sustainability,” Sustainability Office manager Raghu Raghavan said. “I collect metrics on all aspects of sustainability on our campus, and then report that. STARS is the benchmarking tool that I use for that.”

Eight buildings on MU’s campus have also passed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, the global system for determining how well buildings meet green energy standards.

“LEED has their own set of very extensive criteria that we need to satisfy in order to reach gold status or platinum status,” Raghavan said.

One building, Johnston/Wolpers Hall, has Platinum certification. Four other buildings have gold certification and three others have normal certification. Seven other buildings are currently in the evaluation process, with four to be completed by early spring.

Looking to the future, making buildings solar-ready and solar-reliant is one of the university’s goals, and possibly even building new buildings that feature solar energy as an integral source, but it’s not without its hurdles.

“Solar energy in this area of the country is not as cost-effective as other areas of the country,” Coffin said. “Here in central Missouri, we don’t have as much sun and our electric rates are low. It’s hard to invest in solar energy, but the cost in solar is going down. We’re thinking there’s a crossing point here in the near future where we think it’ll be cost-effective for the university to start building solar system, and it makes sense to integrate those in our buildings.”

However, the university continues to focus on what has brought it success so far and looks to continue to improve in its environmental efforts.

“We’re still focusing on our priorities,” Coffin said. “We’re big on continuous improvement, so we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our reliability, our efficiency and our sustainability, so we always have things going on in those particular areas.”

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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