New England was one of the areas of the country most severely hit by the winter energy crunch--schools were closed, cars were locked in the garage, thermostats were lowered and all of us had to curtail many of our activities. But, for all the inconvenience and suffering, Harvard escaped the crisis with relatively few disruptions. Despite the financial implications, the energy shortage has helped teach the University something it would do well not to forget: the meaning of austerity and efficient utilization of available resources.
The University gave Harvard students an extra week of vacation at the Christmas recess to insure that the University could get by on its small January fuel quota. But this schedule change pales in comparison with the three month shutdown the energy crises forced upon neighboring Tufts University.
Buildings and Grounds lowered thermostats in dormitories by at least several degrees for the entire winter and by 10 to 12 degrees for the Christmas vacation period. But even during the vacation, the University did not find the crisis severe enough to warrant drastic measures like "mothballing" the entire University.
Harvard escaped severe disruptions and inconveniences from the energy crisis for three main reasons:
* Many of Harvard's buildings are heated with waste steam which is pumped directly from the Cambridge Electric Co. to the buildings through steam tunnels;
* The monthly fuel allotments were made on the basis of percentages of previous years' allocations for the same month. This aided Harvard because the University has always wasted large amounts of fuel through inefficient regulation and antiquated equipment; and
* The weather in the severest months of the shortage--December and January--was unseasonably warm.
Cambridge Electric Co., which is adjacent to Harvard on Western Ave., must use steam to turn the turbines that produce electricity for its customers. The leftover steam is then piped to Harvard for use in heating the Harvard Houses and the buildings in the Yard area.
Although Cambridge Electric must produce more steam to meet Harvard's demands than it requires to turn its turbines, Harvard is always assured of at least minimal steam heating as long as Cambridge Electric operates.
All of Radcliffe is still heated by oil burners which manufacture steam, but Harvard faced only moderate difficulties in maintaining an adequate supply of oil--which was an especially precious commodity in New England this winter.
Harvard's fuel suppliers generally asked for 25 to 30 per cent cutbacks from previous years' consumption levels for the same month. Stephen S.J. Hall, vice president for Administration, was able to keep consumption within these quotas through a series of energy-saving measures. He ordered temperatures in dormitories (and all buildings not housing collections or experiments requiring 70-degree-plus temperature) to be lowered by several degrees. During the Christmas vacation, classroom buildings and any others which were not being utilized at all were "mothballed"--a word Hall used to indicate that the temperatures were lowered into the 50s. Dormitories and offices were set in the lower 60s for the vacation.
Extra lights throughout the University were turned off and other energy consuming devices--fans, motors, etc.--were used sparingly. But most significiantly, Hall set up a team of "troubleshooters" who spent much of the fall and winter fixing Harvard's antiquated facilities. A long-term project which could continue to save Harvard energy is an effort to decentralize the regulating thermostats in large buildings. Presently, many older buildings have one thermostat for the entire building or House. Hall also stepped up his plan for monitoring heat consumption by computer. He has moved the date for its completion to three years from now instead of five. Harvard was able to cut its fuel consumption by almost 15 per cent just by eliminating many leaks and inefficient systems and regulating temperatures more carefully. Hall's group estimates that the warm January and February weather probably accounted for another 15 per cent saving.
But while the Harvard community did not face any serious disruptions of schedule or uncomfortable living conditions from the energy shortage, the financial troubles the crisis has inflicted have caused concern among all the departments and faculties and the central administration. The price of fuel oil in New England more than doubled between last summer and the winter and other energy expenses increased significantly as well.
Most of the additional expenses this year were borne by the University, but the increases will have to be passed on to the separate faculties next year. All faculties are already facing annual tuition increases approaching 10 per cent, so it appears likely that one effect of the energy shortage will be to cut even deeper into already dwindling funds for educational programs. This, and not the relatively small inconveniences we endured is the most serious consequence of the energy crunch.