Faculty, staff and students are teaming up for a major energy efficiency initiative

January 29, 2020

A DTE-sponsored competition is challenging Michigan universities to craft comprehensive plans for saving energy. Here’s a peek at how UM-Dearborn is tackling the massive campuswide project.

As you’ve been reading about lately, the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality is planning some big steps to reduce carbon emissions across the three University of Michigan campuses. But UM-Dearborn isn’t waiting for recommendations from the commission to begin the work of shrinking the campus' carbon footprint — particularly when it comes to energy efficiency.

For the next several weeks, keep an eye out for small teams of faculty, staff and students, who are making the rounds in all 24 major campus buildings. Clipboards in hand, they’ll be recording detailed, room-by-room, often light-bulb-by-light-bulb observations of how our buildings consume (and sometimes overconsume) energy. It’s actually part of a statewide competition among Michigan colleges and universities called the E-Challenge, which is sponsored by DTE Energy and the Engineering Society of Detroit. The goal: Have participating campuses engage their students, faculty and staff to build long-term strategies for reducing energy consumption. As an incentive, the college or university to come up with the best plan gets $50,000 to support additional student participation in its energy efficiency efforts and energy-reduction projects.

An initial $20,000 grant from DTE is now supporting 19 UM-Dearborn graduate students in this first phase of work, which involves detailing our energy use in each building, organizing data on historical use, and ultimately, identifying opportunities for savings. The latter category could include everything from lower hanging fruit, like completing our campuswide conversion to LED lighting, to more involved solutions, like building management systems that optimize energy use.

“We really are looking at everything — and more importantly, looking to everyone to help in this,” says UM-Dearborn’s Executive Director for Facilities Operations Carol Glick. “I think what’s really special about this project is that we have faculty who work on these issues; we have facilities people working on energy efficiency in their day-to-day jobs; and we have students who are studying this stuff in their classrooms. But we don’t always talk to each other and connect our efforts. So one of the potential long-ranging impacts I see is that we develop a diverse ‘SWAT team’ of people who are tackling these challenges on an ongoing basis. And the entire campus is going to see the benefit.”

In all, 45 students, faculty, staff and facilities experts are working on the E-Challenge here at UM-Dearborn. (That’s among the biggest of any university team in the competition). They have until the end of March to complete their building inventory and compile their plans for reducing energy use. The winner of the competition will be announced in mid-April.