How UT keeps the lights on

Brooke Vincent

Through all of the expansion and construction, UT still uses the same amount of natural gas as it did in 1976 when there were nine million less square feet on campus than there are today.
UT powers its campus with the same amount of natural gas because of conservation and sustainability efforts that improve efficiency of its resources.
“To be honest, we’re so efficient that our cost of power doesn’t allow us to use green wind or solar because we’re too cheap,” said Juan Ontiveros, associate vice president of Utilities and Energy Management. “Our form of good for the environment is being more efficient.”
There are more than 150 buildings on campus that are completely powered, heated and cooled by the Carl J. Eckhardt Combined Heating and Power Complex central microgrid. The cost of power using natural gas is six cents per kilowatt hour, compared to the cost of wind or solar at around 14 cents.
“By being more efficient and effective, I use less fuel,” Ontiveros said. “We’re also emitting less combustive exhaust from our systems. We’ve avoided (nearly) a million tons of carbon dioxide exhaust since 1997. That’s a lot of cars.”
The Eckhardt plant allows the heating, cooling and electric processes to interconnect and feed off of the waste or byproducts of another system, such as excess steam being used for heating.
“I think the greenest aspect is that we operate in a holistic way,” Onitveros said. “Holistic means you are looking at all the pieces at one time. You operate them simultaneously the best they can. If you do that, that makes it extremely efficient.”
Money saved from the efficiency of the power plant goes back into the department to replace old equipment or work on capital improvements in older buildings.
“You use money to make money that goes back in,” said Matt Stevens, building energy and resource steward for Facilities Services. “We’re hoping with that budget to do more infrastructure type improvements, especially on some of the older buildings. Some of these HVACs (heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems) are 30-plus years old.”
The Sustainability Master Plan goal to reduce energy consumption at the building level by 20 percent was achieved this past quarter. The new goal is to reduce energy by an additional two percent each year.
“The main thing we can affect and change is heating and cooling,” said Adam Keeling, energy engineer for Facilities Services. “There’s a long list of things you can do to those, the biggest one is scheduling.”
In 2014, UT was the first Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal certified campus in the world because of the electricity system design, an award Ontiveros said he is incredibly proud of.
“The things that we do here are pretty unique,” Ontiveros said. “Everyone is following us; they’re trying to catch us. That’s a good position to be in. Of course that’s the position we’re in. We’re Texas, right?”