Shortly after writing my first column in 2005, I was approached by Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio, which had decided to raise the visibility of energy in its long-range planning. This was not that unusual for the time, since, like many colleges, Lakeland was concerned about energy cost and environmental impacts. What was unusual was the way the college went about addressing it.
Before doing anything, college leadership decided to get grounded in energy from a global perspective. They concluded that the risks and opportunities were substantial. Within six months, the college had a 20-year energy plan with targets informed by global best practices. With this plan, Lakeland could reduce energy use, emissions, and costs by at least 50% with solid investment returns.
Like all good energy plans, it followed the classic loading order, starting with efficiency and integration of the heating and cooling systems buildings. A range of alternative supplies were analyzed including CHP, PV, wind, and biomass heating. None were sufficiently financially attractive at that time, but it was recommended that this be revisited every five years.
Somewhat unusual for the time, the leadership approved the entire multi-year recommendations of the plan and the 20-year journey started in late 2006. By 2011, simply through efficiency and thermal integration, the college had reduced natural gas use by 46%, electricity use by 36%, greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, and costs were down by more than 50%, or $1 million annually. Over the same time, student enrollment grew dramatically, increasing demands on the campus.
These results alone put Lakeland in the top ranking of U.S. colleges for energy performance. It has been widely recognized for innovative energy management. What was innovative was the systematic planning and multi-year resource commitments, not the technologies. This is so often missing in the rush to implement “green” photo opportunities around exotic supply and overlooking the efficiency basics.
Many organizations would rest on their laurels, but not Lakeland. They had a 20-year plan to implement, and it called for year-on-year continuous improvement once the basic elements were complete. Taking a leaf from Toyota’s energy management playbook, Lakeland recently completed its first Energy Treasure Hunt. Over a three-day period, teams from staff, students, and faculty created lists of efficiency improvements that collectively took another 3% from the energy footprint with investment returns well above 25%. True to the game plan, these initiatives were approved immediately creating immediate efficiencies and positive team motivation.
The original energy master plan called for alternative supplies to be evaluated every five years. True to the playbook, this is currently underway. Many things have changed since 2005. On the equipment side, clean and renewable technologies have become more efficient, cheaper, more reliable, and easier to operate and maintain. The electricity grid has become less reliable, causing unforeseen costs and loss of productivity for the college. The cost of energy reliability is becoming as potentially significant as the utility bills. For Lakeland this is doubly important as it is upgrading and renovating the data center, underscoring the need for reliability. In that same half decade, natural gas prices have plummeted. Electricity prices have slowly increased but show dark clouds on the horizon. For a range of reasons, the part of Ohio where the college is located has unique electricity price risks that could double or triple prices within a few years.
On the environmental front, Ohio recently passed a range of laws that favor clean and renewable energy supplies. The federal cap-and-trade climate regulation anticipated in earlier years did not happen, but new EPA rules on greenhouse gas emissions are in play with uncertain effects. A carbon tax or equivalent is not out of the question, looking a decade ahead.
Against this adjusted backdrop and a vastly more efficient campus, Lakeland evaluated various CHP options, including fuel cells, micro turbines and natural gas engines. Lakeland also looked at utility scale wind and substantial amounts of PV. These are being evaluated in the light of a range of future risks, not simply using the rear view mirror of history. The initial conclusions from this reevaluation indicate that a combination of CHP and wind could reduce primary energy use by a further 60% and emissions by 70% at vastly higher levels of reliability. Much to the surprise of many, the risk-adjusted investment returns are well inside the levels that make sense for the college. Solar PV does remain below acceptable returns, but who knows where that might be the next time the college does a reassessment.
Exactly what final decisions Lakeland will make on this step of the journey is still to be seen. What is clear is that by having a long-term energy road map and the management discipline to follow it, Lakeland will find new energy opportunities for years to come. The Lakeland story underlines the importance of the leadership’s understanding and commitment to energy, a willingness to embrace new ideas, and to stay the course. I want to thank Lakeland for allowing me to tell its story to date, albeit too briefly to do it full justice.