Pennies and a Planet Saved? 

U of M cuts energy costs by installing an eco-friendly heating and cooling system.

University of Memphis students returned to a more comfortable learning environment this fall, thanks to a renovated climate control system.

"We didn't have a lot of control over the old system. Sometimes you'd overcool a building and starve another building," said Jim Hellums, director of the U of M's physical plant.

Not only does the new system work better, it also helps the environment. The renovations are responsible for energy conservation equal to saving 9,113 barrels of crude oil, eliminating the pollution from 708 cars, or planting 1,468 trees per year.

It also will save the campus about $2 million over the next five years through a reduction in energy use and decreased maintenance costs.

"Cost was the main reason for the change because our energy costs were going way up," Hellums said. "But the green aspect goes hand in hand."

Begun last year, the renovations were completed in August and have already saved the university more than five million kilowatt hours of electricity — the equivalent of enough energy to power 450 homes for an entire summer.

"We used to pump thousands of gallons of water all over campus [for cooling buildings], and the buildings used whatever they needed of that water to keep cool. Now we're only pumping the amount of water a building actually needs," Hellums said.

Under the system, computer software monitors building use, causing cooling valves to open and water to begin pumping into the cooling system as needed.

The physical plant is also behind an infrastructure sustainability project that calls for more energy-efficient lightbulbs and other green improvements to the campus. Those upgrades, scheduled to begin in January, will reduce the U of M's carbon footprint by over 8,933 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — the equivalent of removing 1,600 passenger vehicles from the road.

A $10 "green fee," charged to each student per semester, covers the cost of 8,500 blocks of green wind and solar power through the Tennessee Valley Authority's Green Power Switch program. The fee also pays for an expansion of the school's recycling program and the College of Engineering's production of biofuels.

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