A Day in the Life of: Energy regulation plant crew

Have you ever wondered what that mysterious smoke stack is emanating from the horizon behind the College Union? Well together, that tower and its accompanying average-looking building regulate energy in every academic building on campus.

Bill Cox, Plant Manager and Utilities Engineer Level 3, is in charge of making campus space "as comfortable as possible with the least amount of energy," he said.

With the help of advanced energy management system, Cox said, "we can tell if even a window is open in any of the modern academic buildings on campus."

As engineers in this changing climate and economy, Cox and his crew's main objective is to shed unnecessary load. By designing and installing their own variable frequency drives (VFD's), they have developed an innovative way to regulate energy use. Unlike typical unmonitored systems that act similar to thermostats and send a constant flow of energy to buildings, these change based on constantly recorded data of building use, saving the college a heap of money.

"I can't say enough about the college management here and their willingness to help us achieve our goals. We try to come up with the most fiscally responsible and environmentally friendly plans we can; and their support is unparalleled," Cox said.

The plant does a phenomenal job of balancing their two competing priorities, energy conservation and student and faculty comfort. "There are thousands of monitored check points in the ISC alone to regulate heat," he continued. "For every 80 degrees we release in heat, we try to bring back and utilize 50."

Due to economics, the plant currently uses natural gas. However, if there were some kind of emergency that required switching to another source, for example a leak, the plant "can convert to stored oil in less than ten seconds," Cox said. "Figures on natural gas use are called in every four hours to ensure its appropriate usage," he continued.

Plant engineers Mike Simpson, Steve Schunk, and Steve Morse emphasized the importance of energy conservation at the grassroots level. "We constantly test things to see how much use is truly necessary, but it is only as effective as the number of people who get on board with the idea," Morse said. As they routinely shut off academic building power for disuse, they hope that on-campus students continue this move to a greener world.

Cox loves to show off his plant, and encourages interested students to visit and see their efficient processes and his enthusiastic crew. "They are second to none. I wouldn't be here without them," he said.

"The students are our strongest allies, though," he continued, urging students to "call if it's too hot. Don't just open your windows to make it cooler, open your windows and tell us to turn the heat down. We can't know there is a problem if no one tells us!"