The University of Michigan is making progress on the 2025 Campus Sustainability Goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below the 2006 baseline. Still, more work can be done to reduce energy use throughout campus buildings. U-M’s Office of Campus Sustainability has a team of Regional Energy Managers (REMs) who work to increase the energy efficiency of campus buildings and support the university greenhouse gas emission reduction goal. I spoke with REM Erik Boyer about his professional journey, the Energy Management Program, and his advice for fostering a more sustainable campus.
Making a Difference Every Day
Erik received a Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Nevada, Reno and became fascinated in energy management as a student intern. He moved to Spokane, Washington to work as an energy efficiency engineer for a utility company. “The work was great, we acted as energy consultants and helped many organizations, but [it] was often a short relationship where we didn’t see the [long-term] impact of our efforts,” said Erik. Eventually, Erik had a few multi-year client assignments where he was able to see the cause and effect of his recommendations. Erik wanted to see his actions making a positive impact every day, and when he saw the opening for a Regional Energy Manager to support the University of Michigan Medical School he knew it was the perfect opportunity. “I’m interested in large systems, and the Med School particularly has a lot of energy demand, so a small percentage of energy reduction can go a long way,” said Erik.
The REMs main objective is to drive down building utility consumption, and with that, costs and greenhouse gasses associated with energy use. Erik works closely with the rest of the Facilities & Operations department to fix problems in buildings that might cause a spike in energy use, such as a steam valve leaks and air handler malfunctions. “It is inevitable that any time you walk through a building, there will be a problem to be fixed,” says Erik, “and fixing problems in a specific building can save the whole university money because it is all ‘[maize and] blue dollars.’”
Using Building Energy Data
Erik utilizes building energy data to help target building systems that could use a tuneup or an upgrade. Erik says he often catches big opportunities for energy saving by something as simple as looking at the monthly utility bill. “It is a quick check to see what the [utility bill] graph looks like compared to the last couple of years,” says Erik. However, a monthly check isn’t always fast enough to solve specific problems. “Once we see the usage increase on the energy bill, it takes time to find where the specific problem is located in the campus building, then time to fix the problem, then time to see if the fix lowers the energy usage on the next bill. A problem can go on for months without being solved!”
To get to the root of the problems quicker, a group is working on a real-time energy monitoring and tracking tool for campus-wide utility data. “Often times people don’t realize there is a small mechanical failure if it doesn’t affect the functionality of the system. As we move toward real-time monitoring, the better detection tools will be able to alert us to problems quicker.” He added that “Data is power, and you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
Erik Loves his job because he gets to solve complex problems every day. “It’s like detective work,” he says. He also enjoys how much of an impact he can make and is motivated by seeing daily improvements in campus energy efficiency. “It is time to put the pedal to the metal,” he says, “Energy efficiency from an economic perspective is a good investment. It is fairly risk-free, and you might not even get that return in the stock market.”
What We Can All Do
Erik and the other REMs are eager to educate students, staff, and faculty about energy efficiency on campus. He can be found tabling at medical school events and in research labs teaching occupants about managing their energy use. His advice to everyone: “If it seems like there is something wrong [such as a loud noise coming from a heating unit or heat coming out of a radiator in August], there probably is something wrong. So make sure if you see something, say something. Having eyes around campus can help reduce a lot of energy waste.”