The University of Nevada, Reno, dramatically reduced its consumption of electricity in the past decade, but most of the gains didn't come from high-visibility technology such as photovoltaic systems, or solar power.
Instead, step-by-step gains - sometimes small, sometimes great - took a big bite out of the University's electric bill.
The University spent $1.38 per square foot for electricity to serve its 4.34 million square feet of building space in fiscal year 2014. That represents a reduction of nearly 19 percent from the cost of $1.70 per square foot in fiscal year 2005, when the University maintained 3.2 million square feet of space.
On average, electric consumption per square foot of space has declined by 12.8 percent.
The sharply improved efficiency is the result of dozens of projects, said John Sagebiel, assistant director of environmental programs in the University's Department of Environmental Health and Safety.
"None of it has been that hard," Sagebiel said. "That's been the beauty of it."
The University is posting substantial savings, for instance, from the conversion of lighting in the Brian J. Whalen, Sierra Street and West Stadium parking complexes to high-efficiency systems with day-night sensors. The new systems brought lighting levels in the garages to modern standards.
When roof-replacement projects were designed on eight campus buildings in recent years, energy-efficient white PVC membranes replaced old asphalt roofing. That cuts the demand for electricity to cool the buildings.
Energy conservation played a key role in the design of projects such as a cooling tower constructed at the Chemistry Building in 2011. Sophisticated building control systems, occupancy sensors and programmable thermostats also play a part in cutting campus energy use.
Major new construction in the past decade, buildings that include campus centerpieces such as the Joe Crowley Student Union, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and the Center for Molecular Medicine, have been built to the equivalent of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or better standards. LEED standards, established by the U.S. Green Building Council, recognize best-in-class building strategies and practices.
The University also holds LEED Silver certification on the Nevada Living Learning Community, which opened in fall 2012, and the Marguerite Wattis Petersen Athletic Academic Center, which opened in 2008. Peavine Hall, currently under construction, is anticipated to earn LEED gold certification upon its opening in fall 2015.
High-visibility installations of photovoltaic systems atop the Joe Crowley Student Union and at the Valley Road Greenhouse Complex also have contributed to reduced energy purchases by the University. Sagebiel noted, however, that the value of the solar panels extends far beyond the financial value of the energy they produce.
The photovoltaic panels provide students with real-world experience with the systems.
Sagebiel said the panels also make a statement to the University community and its neighbors that solar technology isn't exotic - it's a routine way of meeting the region's energy requirements.
Use of energy-smart technology and construction techniques will pay financial benefits to the University for decades to come.
Ron Zurek, the University's vice president for administration and finance, estimates energy savings will total more than $11.5 million over the projected 25- to 30-year life of projects completed in the past decade.