Project cuts annual energy costs at University of Kentucky by $2.4 million

Ductwork in chemistry labs now runs only when it is needed, instead of constantly removing heated and cooled air.
Ductwork in chemistry labs now runs only when it is needed, instead of constantly removing heated and cooled air. Herald-Leader

University of Kentucky officials say a $25 million energy-savings project has cut costs by $2.4 million a year and reduced its carbon dioxide output by 23,291 tons a year, the equivalent of taking 45,755 cars off the road.

In UK's aging Chemistry/Physics building, the changes include new energy-efficient lighting and ventilation systems.

"The improvement in the light level was just shocking," said Mark Meier, chairman of the chemistry department. "This is what people notice."

In lab spaces, vents that sucked out air constantly, even when there were no experiments creating vapors and fumes, have been replaced with more efficient models that work only when needed.

"These days you can't afford to throw away that much heated or cooled air," Meier said. "This is the gold standard."

The upgrades were part of a project approved in 2009 to help UK save money. Under a deal with Ameresco, a national energy savings company, UK issued $25 million in bonds to pay for the work.

UK is now saving about $2.4 million a year; $2.2 million is used to pay off the bonds and the rest is banked for future energy savings.

The changes have been big: $16.2 million on mechanical systems upgrades, such as better heating and cooling; $6.8 million on lighting; and $1.9 million on water conservation, including low-flush toilets across campus.

In addition to reducing UK's carbon footprint, about 13,987,779 kilowatt hours of electricity and 37,673,020 gallons of water have been saved.

The final piece of the project is "trying to change human behavior," said Bob Wiseman, vice president of facilities at UK.

To that end, the university started a website called Empowered UK (, which allows people to track real-time energy used by the entire campus and specific UK buildings.

The site also allows users to see how their personal choices affect energy use in dorms and classrooms. A mini-fridge, for example, uses about 35 watts per hour and costs $1.79 a month to run. A desktop computer uses 318 watts an hour and costs $6.09 a month, compared to a laptop at $3.17 a month.

As the website, which launched in January, collects more information, its potential grows, said Shane Tedder, UK's Sustainability Coordinator.

Once a full year of data is collected it will be possible to do things like hold building competitions to see who can have the smallest carbon footprint, Tedder said.

"When I present about it, people are really excited because there is more information than they expect," he said.

Energy monitors are now in about 60 buildings; officials hope to double that, and over the next few years have about 200 of UK's buildings under review.

Down the road, Tedder wants to incorporate the information into UK curriculum.

"When we developed Empowered, we wanted to elevate energy awareness on campus, to give people basic information about how much of it do we use, how do we pay for it. It's a one stop shop to learn about energy on campus," Tedder said. "We also hope it will inspire people to participate in a culture of conservation."