Extended Winter Break Avoids $874,000 in Energy Costs

Last year as NC State adjusted the academic calendar due to COVID-19, a unique campus energy conservation opportunity emerged. 

The fall semester would end before Thanksgiving, and the spring semester didn’t start until mid-January. Employees in NC State Energy Management began considering if that nearly 8-week break could be maximized for energy cost avoidance.

Since 2004, NC State has been dialing back temperatures in many campus buildings over the typical 10-day university winter holiday. Called the Holiday Energy Savings Initiative, the collaborative program is coordinated by Energy Management and implemented by Building Maintenance and Operations. Other energy conservation efforts include turning off unnecessary lights and equipment and closing doors and windows.

To seize this year’s additional energy-saving opportunity, Energy Management proposed extending some elements of the energy-saving program beyond the 10-day winter break. 

“Unlike any other year, many university employees were already teleworking. We knew there were additional unoccupied spaces on campus with potential for energy-saving temperature setbacks,” said Kerby Smithson, an energy project manager. 

Energy Management partnered with Building Maintenance and Operations to develop a plan that would save energy while also maintaining necessary humidity levels in campus facilities. With the technical plan in place, the team began reaching out to the campus community to determine which buildings would be, or could be, unoccupied over the extended break.

“As we do every year, we gave the campus community the opportunity to request their space be exempt from the energy-saving effort. But this year we also explained the additional stewardship opportunity,” said Weston Hockaday, interim director of Energy Management.

The campus community responded. For example, the Poole College of Management encouraged its faculty and staff to work remotely so that temperature setbacks could be made in Nelson Hall. In the College of Design, efforts were made to reduce occupancy. Employees at BTEC – a building that’s normally exempt from this energy-saving effort – created a room-by-room usage schedule so that energy could be dialed back in unoccupied spaces. 

“These efforts, plus many others, contributed to record-setting energy cost avoidance,” Smithson said.

NC State avoided $389,000 in energy costs from Dec. 24 to Jan. 3, which is the typical winter break. The extra setback efforts from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23 and from Jan. 4 to Jan. 18 collectively generated an additional $485,000 in avoided energy costs. 

“By working together, we were able to seize an important opportunity for stewardship of fiscal and natural resources,” Hockaday said. “This campus community is amazing. We thank everyone involved in this effort.”

While the Holiday Energy Saving Initiative is one of the university’s most visible energy-saving programs, opportunities to save energy exist year-round for NC State students, faculty and staff. Some of the most effective ways to contribute toward campus energy efficiency include:

  • Turn off and unplug office equipment and appliances that are not vital or not in use
  • Close all exterior windows and doors
  • Turn off lights in rooms that are not in use
  • Shut off all space heaters
  • In labs, shut fume hood sashes when not actively working at the hood