Six Questions with Terry Pahl, Grand Valley State University

Six Questions with Terry Pahl, Grand Valley State University

Engineer shares how employees work together to uncover the "golden nuggets" that save money and energy at the university.

Multimedia from this Release

Grand Valley State shares the fruits of their sustainable agriculture project on campus

Grand Valley State University's sustainable agriculture project

Beekeepers work in the apiary on GVSU's Holland campus

Friday, September 12, 2014 - 3:45pm

CAMPAIGN: Chevrolet Carbon-Reduction Initiative


Following in the footsteps of the University of Illinois and Southern Oregon University, Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan recently became the next university to participate in Chevrolet’s Campus Clean Energy Efficiency Campaign by committing to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

Grand Valley’s carbon reductions will be certified as voluntary carbon credits and Chevrolet will pay the university for its reductions and permanently retire them to benefit the climate.

We caught up with Terry Pahl, a facilities engineer at GVSU, to discuss how their participation came to be, and how energy efficiency is a part of the campus culture.

GM: How did your energy savings accumulate?

Terry: Grand Valley State is focused on reducing our energy costs and one benefit is a reduction of carbon emissions. The goal is achieved through a variety of energy savings projects and procedures. Although, some are small, which we call “golden nuggets”.  These projects and procedures center on energy procurement, temperatures, HVAC controls, lighting, equipment, infrastructure and education. At the moment we believe our efforts in energy conservation and efficiency provides the best avenue economically to reduce our energy expenses and ultimately our carbon footprint. Chevrolet’s program is allowing us another way to capture some future “golden nuggets”. The funds supplied by Chevy will go back into our General Fund and in turn helps reduce our overall costs and carbon footprint.

How does this benefit the broader GVSU community, the students?

Anytime we can reduce our operating costs it has a direct impact on the costs and benefits to the university community. Lower energy costs allow resources to be directed to other needs at Grand Valley.

Did you realize that your performance in GHG reduction positioned GVSU in the top 15% of the universities nationwide?

Actually I did not realize our GHG position, but I’m not surprised. It really wasn’t until we evaluated Grand Valley’s performance with the Chevrolet methodology that we realized how far our energy conservation and efficiency efforts have taken us. When I review what other universities are using for energy on a per square foot basis, I’m proud of how our numbers compare. In 2011, the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) awarded the university the Region III Energy Project of the Year. Region III encompasses seven Midwest states.  In 2013 Grand Valley was selected again by AEE for the Region III Corporate Energy Management Award. So I believe Grand Valley does very well with how we approach energy costs and energy reductions with our resources.

What is the process that allows you to shrink your energy consumption year after year?

Grand Valley State University has developed an energy group which meets several times a year to discuss potential energy projects. Headed by Tim Thimmesch, associate vice president for Facilities Services, this group includes engineers, HVAC controls staff, electricians, maintenance supervisors and staff. The projects brought forward are targeted to have less than a four year simple payback on energy savings.

The potential energy projects vary in size and complexity and help us reduce our operating costs. We have implemented simple single light fixture replacements to more complex HVAC control retrofits. Grand Valley was the first institution in Michigan to install lab controls through a particular vendor that reduced the amount of air changes per hour if the air was deemed to be clean. Grand Valley also has the largest installation in Michigan of a particular automated steam trap failure system.

Another area that helps us keep control of our energy use is the construction of new LEED certified buildings. We realized that constructing buildings to and above accepted energy standards was a great way to reduce energy costs.  This effort has contributed to the LEED certification of 18 Grand Valley owned buildings. One has attained LEED Platinum certification.

University support and backing has been critical to our success. For a number of years now the Grand Valley administration has approved funding and allocated capital funds to help us with our energy conservation and efficiency projects. They recognize that these programs have helped reduce the overall operating costs and continue to support our efforts. It truly is a team effort from the staff in the field to our administration that supports the efforts.

What does this mean to you personally to be the only Michigan campus to receive Chevrolet funding?

We are honored to be selected for the program and very glad to see other universities in Michigan receiving credit for what they are doing to reduce carbon emissions.

What would be your advice for other universities, colleges, businesses or homes who want to reduce expenses from energy efficiencies?

Take the time to evaluate how you are obtaining and using your energy. This starts with your energy procurement and the types of contracts your organization has available. It concerns rates, contract durations, surcharges, generation, wholesale, transportation and transmission charges.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a simple old adage that fits our philosophy. Knowing how you are using energy means you have to meter, track, monitor, trend, compare, adjust, and re-evaluate how you are consuming energy. Metering every building is important however, I don’t believe it’s necessary to sub-meter. But here are some pointers which help lead to success:

1. Watch for abnormal readings and trends either manually or through automated alarms. Ultimately rectify anything that seems to go astray.

2. Motivate your staff, faculty, customers and family to help observe how energy is being consumed, to look for possible energy savings and to strive for energy efficiencies. Everyone can be a part of reducing energy consumption and discovering methods to provide energy efficiencies.

3. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes along to improve the work place and at the same time reduce the energy for that workplace.

4. Take advantage of utility rebates and leverage them to help cover the capital costs or finance other energy projects.

Every institution and business has different options and opportunities for reducing energy consumption. The possibilities are out there for everyone to capture. And once the door is open and you start collecting  “golden nuggets”, you will find that they really do add to the bottom line in reducing energy costs and eventually carbon emissions.

CATEGORY: Environment