The other side of Spartan green
MSU is optimistic about meeting its goals for reducing waste, energy consumption and more by the end of this year
Students living on campus wake up to an alarm clock, turn on the lights, prepare for their day and then attend their daily lineup of classes, all inside lit, heated buildings.
All these things use energy.
Through steam and electricity, the T.B. Simon Power Plant provides the needed energy for almost 19 million square feet of MSU’s more than 20-million-square-foot campus.
The power plant is the chief provider, but the need for energy is growing — and so is the cost.
According to MSU’s Energy Transition Plan, if growth trends continue the power plant will reach its capacity for steam in 2018 and capacity for electricity in 2039.
In response to this issue, the Energy Transition Steering Committee proposed the Energy Transition Plan for the university to President Lou Anna K. Simon. The Board of Trustees approved the plan at a meeting in April 2012, with the ultimate goal being a switch to 100 percent renewable energy and moving away from the use of coal.
“We spent a lot of time looking at energy plans from other corporations and other universities,” Fred Poston, vice president for finance and operations, said in a previous interview with The State News. “I believe this plan sets aggressive goals.”
The plan is centered around five variables: the capacity for power generation, reliability, cost, environmental and health effects.
Reaching the ultimate goal won’t happen overnight, so separate targets were set to be reached by 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2030 as the transition to renewable energy continues.
By 2015 MSU aimed to reduce waste by 30 percent, energy consumption by 15 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.
Many of the goals passed the halfway point in 2013, but there is still progress to be made before the end of 2015.
The sustainability report for 2014 documented an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2009-2010 and 57 percent waste diverted to date.
Part of the plan is to have a renewable energy portfolio, which requires production of energy from renewable sources, of 15 percent and are currently at 8 percent.
But Jennifer Battle, director of campus sustainability, said she feels confident the goals will be reached.
“I feel confident because I know some of the projects that are coming. ... Everyone has been committed to reaching these goals,” Battle said.
On the south end of campus, the T.B. Simon Power Plant works to give students, faculty and staff the power needed to get through their day.
In addition to heat and electricity, pressurized steam is distributed through tunnels to more than 500 buildings on campus.
According to MSU’s sustainability report for 2014, the plant operates on 71 percent natural gas, 28 percent coal and 1 percent biofuel. The usage of coal is down 65 percent since 2009-1200.
Ann Erhardt, campus sustainability assistant director, said an aggressive strategy to reducing coal consumption is now being utilized.
“There is on-going work at the (T.B. Simon Power Plant) to reduce and eliminate coal eventually,” Erhardt said.
Research and changes made by the T.B. Simon Power Plant are playing a role in moving toward 100 percent renewable energy.
“There has been efficiency work so the plant itself uses less energy and works more efficiently,” Battle said.
Battle said researchers are assessing other sources of renewable energy to use at the plant, such as wood pellets and switch grass.
Megan Kastelen, zoology senior and member of MSU Greenpeace, said she is glad to see the reduction of coal use, but would like to see MSU invest more in wind turbines and solar panels.
“I think MSU should take the lead and be the progressive university in terms of environmental energy,” Kastelen said.
In addition to the research at T.B. Simon Power Plant, the anaerobic digester is making a small impact by “bridging energy transition and sustainability,” said Dana Kirk, biosystems and agricultural engineering professor.
An anaerobic digester is a sealed tank, with no oxygen, where organic waste is degraded at a high temperature — about 100 degrees.
The digester was presented in August 2013 as a new supplier of power for south campus buildings.
The high temperature causes the waste to decompose quickly and produce methane, which is a gas that can be used for fuel.
Kirk said about 18,000 tons of organic waste will be used to produce 400,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. She said the waste used comes in all forms –— food waste, cooking grease and manure are all useable. A lot of the waste comes from campus, she pointed out, from the dairy farm and dining halls.
To put this in perspective, Kirk said 400,000 kilowatt hours is roughly enough to power Holmes Hall.
“About 10,000 tons was going to landfills before, but now we’re making renewable energy out of it,” Kirk said. “It’s doing a lot for organic waste management on campus.”
The digester is currently working at 80 percent and Kirk said it should be at full capacity in the upcoming months.
“It’s not the answer to energy on campus, but it’s part of the solution,” Kirk said.
Reaching the ultimate goal
Technological advancements are not the only method of helping MSU reach its goals by the end of the year.
MSU is participating in the Better Buildings Challenge, a program launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The challenge pushes the nation’s leaders in energy productivity to be at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020.
For the challenge, MSU is using a building-profiling system to assess and rank 110 campus buildings and decide which of these possesses the highest opportunity for saving energy.
MSU’s first case study involved with the challenge is Anthony Hall, a $5.1 million project which is expected to save 34 percent of energy due to multiple upgrades.
Battle said the project in Anthony Hall has been recognized as one of the leading case studies within the challenge.
Among the changes for Anthony Hall are upgrading lighting, installing lighting controls, installing air qualities in laboratories and other solutions.
In addition to the Better Buildings Challenge, Battle said a new plan known as the Spartan Treasure Hunt was launched as a pilot during 2013 and fully kicked off in June 2014.
The Spartan Treasure Hunt assesses, building by building, where opportunities exist to conserve energy.
Battle said groups of about 40 to 50 people who are split into teams of six or seven are led through buildings by the students, faculty and staff who use those building everyday.
“We’re engaging the faculty, staff and students who use the building to help us identify any issues they might be having,” Battle said. “It helps us see because we don’t work in those buildings every day.”
According to the Infrastructure Planning and Facilities 2014 report, 84 projects were identified with estimated potential energy savings of $1,989,786.
“We’re finding maybe 200 plus opportunities in ways to save energy and make that building run better,” Battle said.
There are more treasure hunts scheduled in the upcoming months.
Battle said it’s the research and other strategies that are helping to meet the goals of the plan.
“It’s not just about operations, it’s about faculty and students and the whole campus community being engaged,” Battle said.