West Chester University


Energy Usage at WCU

WCU's Facilities Division is a strong proponent and active participant in the University's sustainability efforts. They maintain this website, which presents information on their efforts including the natural gas vehicle program and WCU's geothermal energy system.

The most visible use of energy at WCU is the electricity used for lighting, some space heating and cooling, and providing power to outlets. In a recent year (2006), the electrical energy used at WCU was about 40,000,000 kWh. To put this into perspective, the average U.S. household uses about 10,500 kWh each year, so WCU used the electricity of 3,800 households.

The energy provided by electricity is far larger than most people realize. It's estimated that a human laborer working five days a week can produce the equivalent of 150 kWh. This means that the electrical energy used by WCU is equivalent to the annual labor of over 260,000 people, or the work of about 24 laborers for each undergraduate student.

Generating electricity consumes energy in a different form - about 59% of electricity in our area is generated from burning coal. If all of WCU's electricity was generated in this way over 9500 tons of coal would be burned each year to make it, about 1700 pounds of coal for each student. Fortunately, about 7% of WCU's electricity is purchased from renewable sources, such as wind power. This has the effect of reducing the coal consumed to make WCU's electricity by almost 670 tons per year, or by 120 pounds per student.

It's amazing to think that so much electrical energy is used, but even more amazing to realize that electricity is only about 1/3 of the energy WCU uses. Almost half of our energy comes from direct burning of coal in our on-campus steam plant (look for the smokestack/cell phone tower). This coal doesn't make electricity but creates steam to heat some buildings and to make hot water. In 2006, over 7000 tons of coal were burned on campus to make steam.

Our on-campus coal plant is not very clean or modern. The EPA estimated that 30 tons of very fine particles come out of the smokestack each year, over 5 pounds for each student. These particles are so small they can easily be inhaled, and they can lead to health problems. Fortunately (for us), WCU's tall smokestack and the prevailing winds send most of these particles far away from campus.

WCU hopes to eliminate the steam plant (and the fine particles) by using more efficient geothermal systems for heating and cooling. Water circulating through deep wells is used to efficiently cool buildings in summer and the heat is stored underground. In winter the wells use the underground heat to warm the buildings. Electricity will be used to run the geothermal system but it will be much more efficient and clean than burning coal to make steam.

The remainder of WCU's energy comes from burning fuel oil and natural gas, mostly to make hot water or steam. For example, in 2006, WCU burned about 166,000 gallons of fuel oil, about 1/4 the volume of water in an Olympic swimming pool, or about 15 gallons of oil for each student.

WCU's energy saving efforts, including motion sensors to control lighting, have resulted in a decrease in electricity consumption. September is the month with the highest electricity usage. In September 2007, 3636 MWh were consumed, the lowest since at least September 2000, and much lower than the record of 4362 MWh in September 2005. Furthermore, the 12-month running average of electricity consumption, after rising steadily from 2001 to early 2007, has been on a steady decline and as of June 2008 had returned to levels not seen since 2004. The 250 MWh decrease in the running average indicates a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions: each MWh consumed results in about 1,000 pounds of CO2, so average monthly emissions have decreased by 250,000 pounds or about 125 tons per month reduction.