Fueling the Faculty

Harvard Conserves Energy to Save Funds

The recent world oil glut may be holding down energy costs in the United States, but that doesn't mean Harvard is slowing down its efforts to drastically cut back energy consumption.

When budget planners for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) drew up the budget for fiscal 1980-81, they calculated an oil cost of roughly $44 per barrel. Actual oil costs came closer to $36 a barrel, and the Faculty reaped a hefty "windfall."

But Henry R. Rosovsky, dean of the Faculty, noted in his annual budget report last fall, "most of these savings ... were offset by unanticipated increases in the costs of building maintenance and repair." And so the Faculty's energy cutters are not relaxing their efforts to curb energy consumption.

In fact, the Faculty is in the middle of an extensive five-year campaign to reduce energy usage by one-half by 1986--and officials say the plan is working.

"FAS had made an aggressive assumption that they could get those reductions, and it looks like they are doing it," says Thomas F. O'Brien, financial vice president of the University.

Over the past decade, energy costs have proved an increasingly heavy financial burden for the Faculty, especially with the 12-fold rise in the price of a barrel of oil from $3 in 1970 to $36 in 1980. In the fiscal year ending last June 30, these costs constituted slightly less than $8 million of the Faculty's approximately $60 million unrestricted budget, says Michael N. Lichten, assistant energy coordinator for the Faculty.

Reduced energy consumption will probably not mean reduced overall energy costs--the uncertainty of oil prices prevents that, as any instability in the Middle East could send the cost of a barrel skyrocketing as it did during the 1970s.

But reductions in the number of "energy units" should bring enormous relative savings in the potentially budget-wrecking amount of money the Faculty spends on its programs.

Through the various efforts included in the five-year conservation program, the Faculty is trying to escape the brunt of what Lichten projects to be a certain 8 to 10-percent yearly escalation in the cost of energy units.

The actual conservation measures themselves are relatively basic and mundane, officials note. Insulation and the installation of storm windows in Houses--not spectacular solar projects--are the basis of the energy-cutting campaign. As Thomas A. Tribble, manager of energy systems at Buildings and Grounds, notes, "So far in our project, all we've utilized is things people have known about for years."

Echoing his colleagues, Tribble says these types of measures are the "best and most cost-effective things you can do in the long run. All buildings are basically heat generators," Tribble says, adding that these simple measures help to control the rate at which the heat slips away, and thus helps build up the energy efficiency of a building.

The campaign has done well thus far, officials say, especially in the area of cutting heating consumption. Though efforts to cut electrical usage have not proved as successful, the officials appear to feel confident that the goals of the five-year plan can be met, and that real returns on the roughly $3.5 million spent so far on conservation measures should start flowing into the Faculty's coffers by 1985 or 1986.

Conservation is really nothing new for the Faculty, which has tried energy cutting measures since the Arab oil embargo of 1973. But with the uncertainty of the oil market and the rising budgetary pressures of the 1980s. Harvard officials appear to be continuing the concerted effort to bring down energy consumption.

As Lichten notes, the energy problem "is not something you can solve and then walk away from."