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UC energy savings could eclipse $30M

Replacing old servers will help UC San Diego achieve carbon neutrality by 2014.
Replacing old servers will help UC San Diego achieve carbon neutrality by 2014.

The University of California San Diego campus expects to save $36 million in annual utility costs after a series of green initiatives that include replacing 500 energy-intensive computer servers with 270 servers that require about half the electricity.

The server replacement will save the university $680,000 by slashing energy consumption by 7.9 million kilowatt-hours per year, according to projections released by the 1,200-acre campus, home to more than 27,000 students.

UC San Diego’s $74 million energy-saving initiative is part of a larger University of California program designed to cut greenhouse gases on all of its campuses, especially in older buildings that are the least energy efficient.

While California higher education has seen operating budgets cut to the bone in the past year, UC San Diego won’t have to allocate any money toward the effort.

San Diego Gas & Electric gave $14 million used in the green program, and the rest was funded with $59 million in low-interest revenue bonds that the university will pay for with the massive energy cost savings.

John Dilliot, the campus’s energy and utilities manager, said the energy-reduction program was first introduced in 2003, when California’s university system joined statewide utilities in formulating cost-cutting measures that would save schools tens of millions annually.

Energy savings, Dilliot said, are not only found in the replacement of outdated technology. The green initiative also will focus on everyday tasks that add up to huge utility costs by year’s end. UC San Diego has replaced more than 100,000 light bulbs in the past two years, he said.

And the school will soon have only low- and zero-emission vehicles in its 800-vehicle fleet. The large-scale program includes the use of 7.8 megawatts of renewable energy within the next few years and a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.

He said the green program will aim to cut down energy used by the university’s research equipment, such as freezers that run at -80 degrees and give off “large volumes of heat.”

Dilliott said UC San Diego has installed server virtualization software–which hosts university computing on off-campus servers–but the school remains hesitant to replace its very highest-powered servers with cloud computing.

“I don’t think cloud computing can supplant super computing at this time,” he said.

UC San Diego officials said the campus is on target to surpass university goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2014 and further reduce them to 1990 levels by 2020.

The university and its medical center spend about $43 million annually on energy to operate 67 permanent buildings with 13 million total square feet of classrooms, offices, administrative facilities, labs, libraries, and other buildings.

Minimizing energy consumption in those buildings and installing more alternative energy could prove crucial as energy costs are expected to rise 8 percent annually over the next several years.

UC San Diego joins a growing list of campuses designing plans to cut energy costs while higher education funding stagnates during the down economy.

The University of Buffalo’s Center for Computational Research, for example, installed energy-thrifty supercomputer servers last spring and will save $150,000 annually.

Buffalo’s low-voltage servers will save enough electricity to power 110 homes for one year, said Thomas Furlani, director of the Center of Computational Research.

“That makes a pretty compelling case,” he said.

The University of Illinois’s Urbana campus saved $5 million this year when it reduced energy bills by 10 percent–a 10-month effort that focused on more than 40 campus buildings. Programmable temperature controls–complete with occupancy sensors, telling the system when certain rooms are being used–have saved 27 percent in those buildings’ energy costs, according to a university announcement.

Illinois’s Services Department has reported a drop in the number of faculty and student complaints about cooling, heating, and lighting systems in campus buildings.

Colleges’ commitment to efficient energy use has spurred student groups to join the cause. An environmental group from Keene State College in Keene, N.H., posted a YouTube video titled, “Energy Saving Tips–Dorm Heat Moderating,” that details how students can save energy in the winter.

Instead of opening windows while the dorm room heat pumps full blast, the Keene State group encourages students to talk to campus officials about overactive heaters. Dormitory officials can discuss the problem with maintenance workers, who can adjust the heat as needed.


University of California San Diego

University of Buffalo’s Center for Computational Research

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