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Energy use appears consistent

Aaron Steiner | Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In an attempt to reduce energy consumption and generate savings, a federal energy act moved Daylight Saving Time to the second Sunday of March, four weeks earlier than usual this year. Major utility companies and energy providers, however, saw little change in energy usage, according to national media reports – and that may be the case at Notre Dame as well.

The University’s usage patterns from this March are difficult to compare to the same time period in previous years, Utilities Director Paul Kempf said.

“It’s difficult to look at just a snapshot [in comparison],” Kempf said, due to a variety of variables, including growth at Notre Dame. “… We have more buildings, more people than a year ago, and it’s difficult to create a growth factor for this.”

From the records available, energy consumption levels increased in March this year by a few tenths of a percent, Kempf said. In March of 2006, the University used just under 11 million kilowatt hours – a figure that increased to just more than 11 million hours this March, Kempf said. The difference was 32,000 kilowatt hours.

“I can’t say that we noticed anything uniquely different for the month of March this year,” said Kempf, who explained he was skeptical of the time change from the start.

And since metering accuracy allows for a one percent error, “it’s too close to call, too close to say anything definitive,” Kempf said.

Besides a growing University, Kempf said another factor the calculations don’t account for is weather. He said data on the number of heating/cooling days for the most recent month of March is not yet available.

“Extreme weather will change energy usage,” Kempf said. “Anytime you [deviate] from a benchmark temperature of around 55 degrees, you’ll need to either heat or cool buildings.”

Both heating and cooling will affect the energy usage patterns, he said.

At Notre Dame, major energy consuming areas include research spaces, Kempf said. Circulation systems in these spaces must constantly generate fresh air and cannot provide re-circulated air like many of the other circulation systems on campus.

The amount of energy used by the University in March – around 11 million kilowatt hours – is as much as 11,000 times what’s used in the average American home. That figure is 800 to 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed by President Bush in August of that year, was designed as an attempt to combat growing energy problems through numerous initiatives, including the change to the Daylight Saving Time schedule. Congress will evaluate the effects of the time change and has the ability to revert to the previous time schedule by spring of next year. The provision in the Energy Policy Act amended the Uniform Time Act of 1966.