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One year later: Ohio State energy partnership benefiting campus, students

University seeing change and benefits a year after transformative energy partnership

It has been one year since The Ohio State University entered into a 50-year partnership to improve the university’s energy management and sustainability. And the agreement is already leading to a brighter campus and brighter students.

On July 6, 2017, Ohio State transferred management of the systems that heat, cool and power the Columbus campus to ENGIE Services to operate these systems on behalf of Ohio State Energy Partners. The partnership included a $1.015 billion upfront payment to the university and a $150 million commitment to support academic priorities.

For Zach Horn and Nicolas Renouil, the partnership has been personal. Both students have worked as interns for ENGIE. They have seen the improvements ENGIE is making around campus from the front row.

Horn graduated in May with an Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability degree with a focus on sustainability and business.

“It was just the perfect opportunity for me. I don’t think you really get a chance to combine what you learned in class with such close proximity to what you study,” Horn said.

Horn has worked as a project assistant helping with planning, scheduling and budgeting for some of the projects ENGIE is working on at Ohio State. One goal is to improve energy efficiency on the Columbus campus by at least 25 percent in the first decade of the agreement.

ENGIE workers can be seen across campus installing new light fixtures to replace aging fluorescent bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs. Outdoor lighting systems are also getting a make-over to become brighter and more efficient.

Horn said the approach he has seen from ENGIE is likely to be a model for campuses and communities around the world. He sees communities like Ohio State taking more control over their energy use, from generation to distribution, to make it more local and more sustainable.

“I really do think that’s kind of where energy infrastructure is going to go within the next 20 years. People are going to definitely want to move away from the central power plant and make [sustainability] their own thing. I think Ohio State was ahead of the curve on that,” Horn said.

Renouil, a fourth-year student majoring in political science and economics, is applying what he has learned in data analysis to help ENGIE with its smart meter projects. The meters are being installed in over 350 campus buildings and will provide real-time data to help manage and reduce energy use across campus.

He said analyzing the data helps tell a story, and that story can influence behavior.“I’m working really hard right now to both get an understanding, up until now, how much energy of all of our different buildings been using,” Renouil said. “That’s been collected a number of different ways and we are really pulling all that into a holistic image so we can understand what we’re moving towards and where we’re coming from.”

“One of the easiest ways to be sustainable is to just use what you need as opposed to use less. A lot of that is making sure that you’re understanding where you’re using your electricity and then figuring out from there where there is excess,” Renouil said. “So I really enjoy working with data but also the narratives that it can tell. It can really empower you to understand a lot more about what’s going on and how to make effective changes.”

The university is also realizing the financial benefits of the partnership. Last month, the university Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the $700 million Strategic Initiatives Endowment Fund with the proceeds of the partnership.

Each year, the fund will support student scholarships for low- and moderate-income students, teaching excellence programs for faculty and other academic priorities. For example, the endowment is funding the new Buckeye Opportunity Program, which ensures that Pell-eligible students from Ohio receive financial aid to cover the full cost of tuition.

Trustees also approved the establishment of nine ENGIE-Axium Endowment Funds that are part of the academic collaboration agreement between the university and Ohio State Energy Partners LLC. These include support for programs in the Graduate School, four faculty chairs and additional student scholarships.

“In a year, we have made specific changes toward a more sustainable campus. In addition, the funds will provide a substantial investment in the university’s academic mission. With this investment, we will be able to strengthen our support for Ohio State’s faculty, students and staff,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce A. McPheron.

As the partnership continues to develop, there are bigger plans in the future. Ohio State and ENGIE are collaborating on an Energy Advancement and Innovation Center for students, faculty, ENGIE researchers, local entrepreneurs and industry experts to develop innovative approaches to energy use. Horn sees that project as a legacy for students like him.

“It will be [great] to have something as unique as that in Columbus. I think that’s probably the most exciting thing for future students and also for me. To be able to say I helped with that and I kind of helped make the campus what it will be 10 to 15 years down the line.”

More information

Other news about the comprehensive energy management partnership is published at go.osu.edu/cemp. Some highlights from year 1 of the partnership include: