September 2008

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DR on College Campuses
Letting people know that a DR program will reduce the need to build new power plants, and will likely cut the carbon footprint of the campus, can go far in getting students and faculty to support it.

  Christina Inge

Christina Inge
Marketing Manager
Spinwave Systems, Inc.

As more colleges become interested in demand response, facilities managers are wondering how best to implement DR on a college campus. Their concerns are similar to those expressed by anyone considering DR for a facility that is going to be occupied during load sheds: How do you shed load without causing complaints from occupants? To what extent should occupants have to participate in load-shedding events by engaging in voluntary activities, such as turning off lights? Whether they will be called on to help by cutting their usage, or just need to be aware of automated cutbacks, how do you ensure that occupants are fully supportive of the program? Finding the answers to these questions can mean success for your demand response implementations.

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On a positive note, many students and faculty will be supportive of doing demand response. Concern for the environment, especially global warming, is strong on campuses across the country, and many students are already cutting their energy consumption as a way to reduce their impact on the environment. The key to translating concern for the environment into support for a program that can require some sacrifices, like DR, is to educate people on campus about the benefits of the program. Letting people know that a DR program will reduce the need to build new power plants, and will likely cut the carbon footprint of the campus, can go far in getting students and faculty to support it.

Start your education campaign well before any anticipated load shed--an entire semester before signing up for DR is not too early. Create a brochure answering common questions about DR and distribute it across campus. Design posters and place them prominently in key locations. Make sure to get together with campus environmental groups, and ask them to reach out using all the channels that they normally use to publicize their activities. Do they have a mailing list to which they can send your brochure about the program? Can they organize a meeting on the benefits of DR? Don’t stop there: get together with staff and instructors—anyone who will be affected. Hold a town-meeting-style forum, give talks on campus radio, give an interview for the school paper.

Come prepared to meetings with answers about the program, and, indeed, solicit questions from students, faculty, and staff in order to get a clear picture of the concerns that people may have, long before you actually put any DR program in place. Early in the process, create a webpage containing a clear explanation of how DR works, what everyone on campus will need to do to help, and how they will be notified of events. Once events occur, update the page with a prominent notice of how much usage was curtailed; people enjoy seeing the positive results of their efforts. This kind of outreach will ensure not only that people on campus will more likely accept temporary reductions in lighting, heating, and cooling, but also actively do their part to cut back on usage themselves.

If your primary means of doing DR is to curtail demand, with little to no reliance on shifting to generator power, the next question is whether to automate your efforts, rely on manual steps, or both. If campus awareness and support are strong, and facilities staff are not overtaxed, non-automated efforts can be effective. Facilities staff can respond to a call to shed load by shutting down predetermined non-essential loads, while students, faculty, and staff can do their part with efforts such as turning off lights, fans, and TVs. Many colleges across North America are doing just this, and are often able to respond very effectively when called on to shed load.

Reliable Controls If you do involve members of the college in load sheds, an additional layer of outreach is going to be necessary. If you anticipate an event in the upcoming days, make sure to step up awareness efforts as a build-up to the event, to ensure greater participation. Have a notification system in place well before the actual event, and make sure that it is as quick and multifaceted as possible, utilizing email, phone calls, and campus radio.

If you don’t have a large staff, or have not had the time to do enough outreach on your campus to secure a high level of participation in a load-shedding event, automating your DR program can be a good choice. Retrofitting your existing buildings with an adequate number of controls to reduce usage automatically can considerably trim the number of staff-hours needed to shed load. Outreach, though still important to ensure support for the program, does not need to be as extensive as it does when students and faculty are relied on to reduce usage. Automating DR can also increase the amount of usage that can be cut, since human error, not to mention non-compliance due to complacency, are eliminated. Eliminating human error also makes the number of kilowatt-hours you can plan on shedding during each event fairly constant.

Wireless mesh systems make it more cost-effective than ever to automate demand response. By eliminating the need to run wire, wireless controls can make it possible to retrofit an existing HVAC system without drilling walls, saving up to 75% of direct labor costs. Wireless pulse counters for electricity meters are equally easy to install, and can facilitate DR by verifying load sheds and providing baseline data on normal energy consumption. Thus, automation of demand response, once thought out of reach for budgetary reasons, is now feasible for many colleges.


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