U.Va. to Reduce Electric Demand for One Hour in June 20 Emergency Drill

The University of Virginia will seek to reduce the electricity it draws from the power grid by 18 percent of its peak demand for one hour on June 20, part of an effort to be prepared for an “energy emergency.”

From 3 to 4 p.m., the University will reduce electric demand by turning off unnecessary equipment and switching several operations to generators. The goal is to reduce electric demand by 11 megawatts.

This is part of U.Va.’s participation in the Demand Response Program, sponsored by the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. It is designed as a practice run, so that in case of an energy emergency, U.Va. will be prepared to reduce its consumption from electric utilities.

An energy emergency could be declared if heavy use of the electric generating and transmission system threatens to cause outages, such as on a very hot summer day when everyone with an air conditioner is using it.

“Historically, ‘emergency’ has meant loss of power,” said Armando de Leon, sustainability programs manager for U.Va. Facilities Management. “However, given the interconnectivity of the electric grid, that definition has been expanded to include a declared emergency in the grid which includes the risk of a loss of power in a section of the grid that may be quite remote from U.Va.” 

U.Va.’s participation, along with that of other users, will reduce demand and help avert a blackout. 

In a similar exercise last year, the University reduced its draw from the electric grid by 10 megawatts.

“We have increased our goal to 11 megawatts to garner greater electricity savings and do our part to reduce electric usage during peak demand,” Nina Morris, Facilities Management’s sustainability outreach coordinator, said. “We have developed a larger plan than last year by looking at a wider range of systems that we can either power down or switch over to generators. And as the U.Va. community is now more familiar with the program, we anticipate higher voluntary participation in powering down unused electronic equipment and lighting.”

Much of the University’s energy demand comes from operating heating and chilling plants, so several will be switched over to generators, including the Main Heating and North Chiller Plant, Massie Road Heating and Chiller Plant and the South Chiller Plant. The John Paul Jones Arena will be switched over to a generator, as will Jordan, Clark and Wilsdorf halls and Medical Research buildings 5 and 6.

Employees are asked to turn off any lights and appliances, such as printers, that are not necessary to their work.

“We want people to be more conscious of their energy consumption for that hour,” Morris said.

Morris suggested setting room temperatures as high as 78 degrees, with employees wearing appropriate clothing to ensure comfort; adjusting work schedules to reduce energy use during peak periods; avoiding fast-charging battery-powered equipment; turning off printers, copiers and other equipment when not in use; using power management settings on all equipment; turning off lights in unoccupied spaces and incorporating window films, solar screens or awnings on south- and west-facing windows to reduce solar heating in buildings.

While employees are asked to reduce their consumption of electricity at work as much as possible, de Leon said the functions of the University would continue.

“There will be no effect on patient care or research,” he said.

The drill assesses how well large users can withdraw from the electric grid in time of emergency.

“We’re contributing in a number of different ways,” de Leon said. “We are helping improve the overall stability of the electric grid, we are helping the community and we are helping ourselves, because having outages and brown-outs would be detrimental to our students, patient care and to research.”

But Morris noted that conserving power should not be limited to times of emergency. She said employees should remain conscious of their electric use and what steps can be taken to reduce it, which will also reduce U.Va.’s energy costs. 

“In the afternoon on hot summer days, between 2 and 5 p.m., is usually the peak electric demand time, “Morris said. “If employees can be aware of this and try to work out ways to reduce the electric load or shift it to a different time of day, that would help.”

The Demand Response Program was created by a 2007 executive order from then-Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and has since been extended.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications