It Pays to Save: U of Michigan Cashes in with Energy Efficiency

As the saying goes, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.' But as Jim Almashy, an Energy Conservation Engineer at the University of Michigan (UM) now knows: energy conservation saves millions of dollars.

As he makes the rounds through the 35 buildings (spanning a whopping 4 million square feet) that make up UM’s College of Literature, Science and Arts (LSA), Almashy is attentive to detail as he works to make everything as energy efficient as possible.

“When I started, I was sure I would save the college at least my salary,” Almashy said. “After I was in the position for a little while, I realized I could save the college the equivalent of my salary every week (emphasis ours), at least for the first few years.” Last year, he managed to save LSA $3.6 million in energy costs compared to 2009 by decreasing energy demand by 26 percent.

According to a LSA press announcement:

Almashy’s job in LSA is part of the University’s larger cost-cutting efforts to ensure the primary mission of providing a world-class education. The university has already reduced or reallocated more than $135 million in recurring costs and is in the process of reducing spending by another $100 million by 2012. It’s planning on reducing and reallocating an additional $120 million by 2017. That cost saving is happening through a variety of measures, including energy cost avoidance.

By looking at the way things have historically been operating, Almashy can find or identify ways to improve the system without anyone noting reductions in performance. His percipient nature allows him to find the college’s energy hogs. As the press release states, for instance, “[i]n the Angell Hall Computing Center, he turned off 100 250-watt lights that were highlighting a skylight 24 hours a day and waited to see if anyone complained. … No one did.” Also, Almashy pays close attention to ventilation fan schedules, observes changes in utility bills, converts to more efficient light bulbs and often, simply turns things off.

“Jim’s expertise and hard work has turned around LSA’s historical rise in energy use to where now it is in steady decline,” said Robert Johnston, LSA’s director of facilities and operations. “These savings have also resulted in the reduction of the environmental impact of LSA’s energy use. His exceptional knowledge of building systems, along with his intimate knowledge of the university’s maintenance and engineering resources, has allowed him to implement changes to LSA building systems and their operations.”

Colleges and Universities across the country may do well by investing in energy conservation engineers. With that in mind, I propose a novel strategy: Take the money saved through energy efficiency projects at your institution and create energy efficiency scholarships for engineering students. Doing so will help to create a future workforce consisting of many more individuals like Jim Almashy.