Community Development and Applied Economics
UVM Installs 1,300 LEDs in Exterior Light Fixtures, Saving Energy, Reducing CO2 Emissions
Investment is first project financed by new Green Revolving Fund
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
If the University of Vermont campus seems a little brighter after dark these days, there’s a reason. Since 2011, UVM has replaced more than 1,300 lamps in its exterior light fixtures with high performance, energy saving LED fixtures. The conversion will be completed early in 2013.
The energy efficient LEDs will save an estimated 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually – enough to power 100 Burlington homes for a year – and prevent some 353 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year from being released into the atmosphere.
Thanks to rebates from the Burlington Electric Department for reductions in energy use and to UVM’s new green revolving fund, the investment benefits both the environment and the university’s bottom line.
Payback of three years
After the rebates, UVM’s LED investment totaled $225,000. According to calculations made by BED, the university will save at least $75,000 annually in electricity costs, resulting in a payback period of three years. The average lifespan for the new LED fixtures is expected to be 12 to 15 years.
“This is a showcase project for how organizations and electric utilities can partner to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact,” said Richard Cate, UVM’s senior vice president for administration.
"BED has been very impressed with UVM's commitment to energy efficiency,” said Burlington Electric general manager Barbara Grimes. “They have used our programs and received our rebates. We have been a good team over the years. UVM benefits with lower utility bills and the city as a whole benefits with lower usage."
Green revolving fund: a financial net positive
While the rebates, energy and maintenance savings, and reduced environmental impact make the LED investment an attractive one, UVM’s green revolving fund, established last year, provided the means for making a large investment in energy efficiency.
But far from taxing the university’s finances, the investment provides a net positive contribution to its bottom line.
Green revolving funds take monies that would normally be placed in conventional investment vehicles like CD’s or bonds and invests them in energy efficient technologies. Through savings in energy costs, the funds almost always pay a higher rate of return than standard investment vehicles.
UVM is funding its green revolving fund with a portion of its reserve cash, which it normally invests in low-risk, short and intermediate term instruments like money market funds typically earning a maximum 3 percent return.
Since the payback period on the LED investment is under three years and the life of the bulbs is predicted to be 12 to 15 years, UVM expects its return on investment to be considerably higher than 3 percent.
“The green revolving fund gives us the resources to continue investing in energy efficiency at UVM in a way that’s financially prudent and sustainable,” Cate said.
Second project financed by fund – thermal blankets – underway
UVM has already embarked on its second green revolving fund project – the encapsulation of steam pipes, valves and fittings with reusable thermal blanket systems. Traditional fiberglass systems are a one-time use application that degrade after pipes have been serviced or repaired. The new thermal blanket systems offer a reusable feature with a higher insulation value for even greater thermal savings.
The university has done most of the major mechanical rooms on campus and is now embarking on installing thermal blankets in all of the forty-two exterior steam vaults and man-holes across campus.
The project cost is $125,000 after rebates. Annual savings are projected to be $25,000, resulting in a payback period of five years. A conservative estimate of the blankets lifetime is 15 to 20 years. Vermont Gas Systems has been a strong advocate for the initiative.
Future green revolving fund projects at UVM may include an investment in LED lighting in the interior of UVM’s buildings, installing demand-controlled ventilation systems, and upgrading ventilation and lighting controls in older facilities like the Waterman Building.
Last year, UVM joined the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s Billion Dollar Green Challenge, earmarking $13 million, the largest total in the country, for its green revolving fund.
The initial dollars would be spent over a 10 to 12 year period, Cate said.
But because the fund is self-replenishing, its ability to fund projects should be indefinite.
UVM’s Board of Trustees has mandated that all green revolving fund monies be paid back within seven years and pay a return of at least 5 percent, and that investments not exceed $3 million.
UVM is partnering in the green revolving fund program with BED. All energy savings from UVM’s green revolving fund investments will be verified by the utility.
Between 1992 and 2012 UVM spent about $8.6 million on energy reduction projects in partnership with BED with paybacks of around seven years.BED’s work with UVM over the years is one reason that overall electricity use in Burlington in 2011 was 4.7 percent lower than 1989, the year before BED began offering energy efficiency programs, BED officials say. BED’s energy efficiency investments cost about two times less than market electricity, saving money for all BED ratepayers over time. Almost all of the dollars spent on efficiency re-circulate in the local economy, which adds even more value to the investment.