Five years ago, with energy prices soaring, John Graham, the director of the basketball arena at the University of Texas, decided to measure the use of electricity and other utilities in real time. He soon found that the Frank Erwin Center, the team’s home, spent $3,500 on utilities in a single day.
Fans who attended this week’s men’s basketball season opener may not have noticed, but the 33-year-old Erwin Center is a far more energy-conscious place than it was when Mr. Graham started his money-saving push. Between the fiscal years 2006-7 and 2008-9 the arena’s electricity use dropped by 15.4 percent. Use of chilled water (for air-conditioning) fell by nearly 12 percent.
Other university athletics departments around Texas, under mounting pressure to “go green” and cut expenditures, have also instituted changes. Baylor University, which has the highest-ranked women’s and men’s basketball teams in the state, has installed motion- and audible-sensing lighting in the offices and in the weight room of its basketball building, the Ferrell Center, and is currently adding the same systems to the arena itself. A new scoreboard, lighted by energy-efficient light-emitting diodes, also has an automated on-off switch to prevent it from being left on when it is not needed, said Lori Fogleman, a university spokeswoman.
Then last year top officials in the U.T. athletics department decided to imitate the actions of the employees at the Erwin Center. All athletics staff members began getting a daily e-mail showing utility use in other buildings like the football stadium and the tennis center.
“We said, ‘Well, heck, if John can do it in his contiguous building, why can’t we do it,’ ” said Chris Plonsky, director of women’s athletics. The department’s spending on electricity, chilled water and steam (for heat) dropped by $259,500 from the 2008-9 fiscal year to the next one.
One of Mr. Graham’s innovations was shrinking the time taken to cool, or heat, the arena before a game. Before, the temperature-adjustment process began 8 to 10 hours before tip-off. Now the arena’s staff begins tinkering as late as it can get away with — generally four to six hours ahead of the game’s start time, depending on factors like ticket sales (i.e., number of warm bodies expected) and the outdoor temperature. Mr. Graham has also cut office air-conditioning to 12 hours a day from 24.
There are some things Mr. Graham cannot change. The arena’s specialized theatrical lighting, for example, is hard to swap out. Water consumption has increased in recent years, which is hard to control because much of the use is visitors’ flushing toilets and washing hands.
For Mr. Graham, the key take-away is that the more information you have about the resources you are using — whether it is electricity, water, steam or anything else — the better.
“If you can’t monitor it,” he said, “there’s no way to manage it.”