With a new microgrid for campus, Eastern Mennonite University is increasing its energy resilience and enhancing its sustainability culture.
The microgrid, set to come online during week of March 12-16, will use three new 500-kilowatt natural gas-fired generators to strengthen EMU’s ability to respond during periods of significant demand on the local grid. It will be able to power the university independently when necessary, such as in times of local grid outages.
“This aligns with the university’s commitment to be an energy-efficient, sustainable campus,” said Ed Lehman, director of facilities management, “and will result in electric utility cost savings for EMU.”
Universities are showing a growing interest in microgrids, said Microgrid Institute founder and director Michael Burr in a Higher Ed Facilities Forum article. Microgrids not only “meet their needs but also showcase their commitment to innovation.”
In the article, EMU’s microgrid was featured as a model among universities such as UC San Diego, MIT, Montclair, Princeton and Santa Clara University that are generating their own power needs.
The facility is projected to save the university almost seven dollars per kilowatt of monthly distribution demand fees.
“We’re taking a load off of Harrisonburg Electric Commission, when they need it, thereby saving them money,” said Lehman. “In turn, they are allowing us to pay a lower distribution demand fee.”
The microgrid was a facility improvement measure stemming from a performance contract with Siemens Building Technologies, which studied EMU’s energy use and made recommendations for improvements. EMU will pay off the improvement measures, including the microgrid generators, over the next 15 years with the savings resulting from improved efficiency and reduced energy and water consumption.
The generators will be integrated into the existing campus building automation system, which already helps manage times of peak electrical demand.
Other steps taken by EMU over the years to improve energy efficiency on campus have included heating system and lighting upgrades, the construction of three LEED Gold-certified buildings and installing 328 high-efficiency photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Hartzler Library. At the time of its installation in 2010, the 104-kilowatt system was the largest in Virginia, and most years it has performed slightly above initial predictions, said Lehman.