Managing Energy Costs in Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities in the US use an average of 18.9 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 17 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot (ft2) annually, and typical US higher-education buildings sized around 50,000 ft2 consume more than $100,000 worth of energy each year. Lighting, ventilation, and cooling are the largest consumers of electricity, and space heating accounts for the vast majority of natural gas use (Figure 1). As a result, these areas are among the best targets for energy savings. By implementing cost-effective energy-efficiency measures, many colleges and universities have the potential to cut their energy bills by 30 percent or more.

Average energy use data

Figure 1: Energy consumption in US higher-education facilities by end use
Data from the US Energy Information Administration show that, in US higher-education facilities, ventilation, computer equipment, and lighting account for 57 percent of electric use and space heating dominates natural gas use at 76 percent.
Pie chart showing electricity end use: Ventilation, 22%; Miscellaneous, 27%; Computers, 18%; Lighting, 17%; Cooling, 10%; and Refrigeration, 6%.
Pie chart showing natural gas end use: Heating, 76%; water heating, 14%; and miscellaneous (including cooling and cooking), 10%.

Understanding your energy consumption can greatly help in the effort to control costs. Utilities can provide monthly data for your use and analysis, and some utilities will also assist with the analysis. In general, utilities typically charge commercial buildings for their natural gas based on the amount of energy delivered. Electricity, on the other hand, can be charged based on two measures: consumption and demand (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Load profile for a typical college building in California
Hourly energy consumption data show that lighting, cooling, and ventilation present some of the largest opportunities for reducing peak demand charges in college buildings.
Area chart showing times of the day versus load levels.

The consumption component of the utility bill is based on the amount of electricity, in kWh, that the building consumes during a month. The demand component is the peak demand, in kilowatts (kW), that occurs within the month. Monthly demand charges can range from just a few dollars to upwards of $20 per kilowatt and can be based on the highest peak recorded in the previous 12 months. Since it can be a considerable percentage of your bill, care should be taken to reduce peak demand whenever possible. As you read the following energy cost management recommendations, keep in mind how each one will impact both your consumption and your demand.

All of the conservation measures discussed here will save money and enhance both the aesthetics and the learning environment of your campus. To help you implement these measures—and to identify additional strategies that may be well-suited to your particular campus—here are some additional resources to consider:

Quick Fixes
Longer-Term Solutions
Content last reviewed: 
03/02/2015