Eastern Michigan University students work on their devices at the Student Center.
(Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)
(USA TODAY) With dorms buzzing with residents' devices, libraries filled with computer labs and printers and offices complete with copiers and coffee pots, universities use a lot of energy.
Now they can get paid to diminish their usage.
Integrated Demand Resources, a unit of the nationwide company Johnson Controls, pays customers who enroll in its Demand Response program to reduce their electric consumption for a period of time during the summer.
Participation in the program requires a university or facility to be on standby to reduce electric consumption in response to any electrical-grid demand peaks. The Emergency Demand Response program runs exclusively in the summer from June 1 to Sept. 30 each year, a time in which the likelihood of energy demand peaks increases.
Universities and colleges are the vanguard of using Demand Response, wrote David Pinto, market manager of Integrated Demand Resources, in an email. He said they use Demand Response in a variety of ways, including complementing campus conservation and sustainability efforts.
"We want to be efficient as possible, and (the program) is certainly a driving force," said Michael Brewer, director of plant operations at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.
Muhlenberg is involved in more than one Demand Response program. Specific to the Emergency Demand Response, the college will earn about $99,000 this year.
Brewer said the money earned from the program has allowed the college to switch from manual dispatches, in which maintenance workers had to physically go to a building to shut off some of its power, to building automation systems where software can manage electrical consumption.
For many universities, such as Muhlenberg and Ohio University, the money received is reinvested back into energy programs and utility budgets.
To receive the money, all clients must pass a mandatory Load Drop Test to demonstrate capability of lowering its consumption. In addition to the test, Johnson Controls may call at any time during the program for an electrical-use reduction in a certain time frame. Calls are not always experienced; if no call occurs, then the money is given based on successful completion of the mandatory test.
At Ohio University, faculty and students take the request to help lower their energy consumption seriously.
"When you walk around on campus (on the day of the test), you can see that offices are dark," said Michael Gebeke, executive director of facilities management at Ohio University.
This year will mark OU's third year with Integrated Demand Resources. In that time, OU has been called only one time for a drop. From 2012 to 2014, the university is set to earn $47,000 each year.
The University of Virginia, which will receive about $192,000 for the program this year, engages its students to participate by providing incentives.
"If someone makes a post on our Facebook wall about how they will cut their energy usage for an hour, they could win a water bottle," said Nina Morris, outreach sustainability officer for the University of Virginia. "Social media is helping to get the word out about our sustainability programs."
The calls for electricity come when there is a high demand for energy. If there is a power issue in a part of the country, the program calls for the clients to diminish their use of energy to use that energy in the area of need.
Needy areas include New York and Boston, Gebeke said.
Serving such areas by lowering energy use in other parts of the nation helps prevent the construction of power plants, which Brewer said was a main goal of the Demand Response programs.
"(With Demand Response), everyone wins," Pinto wrote in an e-mail. "Participants win by saving and earning money through smart energy management. The power grid wins for not having to start up temporary power plants during peak periods. The community wins with less threat of rolling blackouts. And the planet wins because of less greenhouse gas emissions."
"(Financial incentives are) a good way to get administration and students to take it seriously," said Elizabeth Brajevich, a sophomore at Michigan State University studying fisheries and wildlife and environmental economics and policy. "Any type of incentive that works is key, but people understand money as a reward. They don't have to look at some distant effect like the fact that it's better for the environment."
Meryl Gottlieb, USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent