Energy Conservation Projects

Energy Conservation Initiative

The cheapest and cleanest energy is that which is not used. The Energy Conservation Initiative reduces campus-wide energy consumption and helps the campus meet the target goal of carbon neutrality by 2035 by targeting efficiency projects in heating, cooling, building systems, and lighting.  The program launched in 2000 and continues today.

The Energy Conservation Initiative (ECI) studies and identifies high-impact energy-saving projects across the Ithaca campus, as well as in off-campus contract colleges and real estate holdings for the University.   ECI is managed by a dedicated team in the Energy Management Department who identify and implement three types of upgrades: building automation & controls, heat recovery, and lighting systems. 

As of the early 2020s, the ECI program at Cornell had saved the University over $52 million dollars and avoided over 231,000 MTCO2e, or greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Browse data about our progress to neutrality to understand the impact of ECI projects in context.

ECI Project Savings

Cornell uses the Green Revolving Investment Tracking System (GRITS) to track and calculate project-level energy, financial, and carbon savings data for all ECI projects and efficiency improvements. Check out Cornell's GRITS public dashboard.

The energy saving benefits of Cornell's ECI approach are substantial. As of early 2021, ECI projects had saved the University a cumulative 2.5 billion mmbtus, which is equivalent to taking our Central Energy Plant completely off-line for one year.  The CEP is powered by natural gas, meaning ECI projects have significantly reduced Cornell's carbon footprint and prepared the institution to transition to renewable energy with a lower overall energy load.

Another way to understand these savings is through Cornell's "flat line energy use" since 2000. The greenest energy, and the best for reducing climate change impacts, is the energy we never use.  Cornell University has seen flat energy use since 2000 as a result of energy conservation efforts, in spite of campus square footage growing by 20% during that same time.

Explore ECI Impacts

Use this page to explore energy and carbon savings by individual project, by project type, or by phase of work (periods of time).  This information can be used to better understand the benefits of investing in energy conservation projects, and incentivize further investment across the Cornell campus in similar work.

Energy Savings

As of Spring 2021, Cornell had realized 2,481,349 MMBTUs of cumulative energy savings from ECI projects.

Created with Highcharts 9.0.1Fiscal YearEnergy Savings (MMBTU)All Projects: Energy Savings Over TimeAnnual SavingsProjected SavingsCumulative Savings20142015201620172018201920202021 (projected)2022 (projected)2023 (projected)2024 (projected)2025 (projected)01,000,0002,000,0003,000,0004,000,0002022 (projected) Cumulative Savings: 2,317,899
Financial Savings

As of Spring 2021, Cornell had realized $52.5 million in cumulative financial savings.  Note that many projects have an anticipated payback which extends well in to the future.

Created with Highcharts 9.0.1Fiscal YearFinancial Savings (USD)All Projects: Financial Savings Over TimeAnnual Financial SavingsProjected Financial SavingsCumulative Financial Savings20142015201620172018201920202021 (projected)2022 (projected)2023 (projected)2024 (projected)2025 (projected)--25,000,00050,000,00075,000,0002020 Cumulative Financial Savings: 35,110,211
Carbon Savings

As of Spring 2021, Cornell had abated 231,361 MTCO2E or equivalent greenhouse emissions to date.  This is roughly equivalent to avoiding emissions from 27,861 American homes per year, or having eliminated 535,650 barrels of oil from being consumed. Equivalencies created by the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

Created with Highcharts 9.0.1Fiscal YearEmissions Abated (MTCO2e)All Projects: Emissions Abated Over TimeAnnual Emissions AbatedProjected Emissions AbatedCumulative Emissions Abated20142015201620172018201920202021 (projected)2022 (projected)2023 (projected)2024 (projected)2025 (projected)0100,000200,000300,000400,0002020 Cumulative Emissions Abated: 154,183

Featured Projects

Browse recent projects for an in-depth look at how ECI benefits the Cornell campus.

Electrician replaces a streetlamp with an LED bulb
Markus O. Reynolds, a Line Crew member, installs LED street lamps during the lighting upgrade initiative in May 2019 outside of Upson Hall on the Cornell Ithaca campus.

The LED Replacement Project kicked off in 2014 and was completed in 2019, with the replacement of 156,000 four-foot fluorescent tube lamps with more energy-efficient lighting across a significant portion of campus buildings. 

By replacing traditional fluorescent lighting with high-efficient LED tubes with a longer life, Cornell has realized $635,000 in savings annually, and over $8 million in total savings over the lifetime of the bulbs' expected life.  In addition, the project saves over 8.5 million kWh of energy annually, equating to an annual carbon savings of 3,370 MTCO2e.

Learn more about this project:

Bar graph shows cumulative carbon emissions reduction from the lighting project over time, with over 50,000 tons of GHG emissions reduced over the project lifetime Bar graph with cumulative financial savings from the campus-wide lighting replacement project.  Savings of $8M over project liftime.

In addition to substantial energy and carbon savings, this project provided the added benefit of improving overall light quality in many buildings, making work, physical recreation, and laboratory activities easier and more productive for the campus community.
Upgraded panels on the right replaced old inefficient panels (on the left).

The Biotechnology Controls Upgrade project was completed in 2019, with a 5.2 year payback period on upgrades to the way the building heated and cooled based on occupancy rather than time-of-day schedules.  The project is anticipated to save 11,000 MTCO2e over it's lifetime. (See information on Cornell's greenhouse gas inventory for context about these savings relative to campus emissions).

The project upgrades improved performance in 140 lab and classroom spaces, as well as 2 event spaces, adding occupancy-based digital controls. The removal of 96, 1 hp, booster fans and sound attenuators, which were associated with 88 fume hoods, will reduce electrical consumption and maintenance costs. Variable speed drives were also equipped with flow stations to manage airflows.

Learn more about this project:

Schematic diagram of the heat recovery system installed at Bard Hall as part of the ECI Bard Hall Heat Recovery project in 2018.

Bard Hall, a building with many energy-intensive labs primarily used by the College of Engineering, underwent an upgrade to the air handling units (AHUs). 

The Bard Hall Heat Recovery Project was implemented in 2018 at a cost of $368,000, with annual cost savings of approximately $48,600, or a 7.6 year payback time.  The project installed a  glycol run-around loop that recovers heat from laboratory exhaust fans, and uses it to preheat air used for heating. Typical AHUs use 100% outside air for heating and cooling.  The new system recaptures 45% of the waste energy from fume hoods or exhaust grills. 

This project not only reduces total energy consumption throughout the year but significantly reduces building load on peak days avoiding the need for supplemental heating or cooling equipment, and makes our campus more resilient to intense weather conditions.

Learn more about this project:

Explore All Projects

The Energy Conservation Initiative has funded and implemented projects in several phases.  Each phase had different priorities and funding criteria - for instance, early work prioritized projects with a shorter payback period of 7 to 10 years, while later phases of work have tackled projects with a longer payback period.

Each project has a summary page (external links) describing the project, its carbon and financial savings, and projections for payback, ROI, and other metrics.  (Note: in addition to Phases 1, 2, and 3, ECI also has a "Phase 0" set of projects which occurred from 2000-2008 however, project data was not tracked during this time with the same level of detail as remaining projects captured below).

Phase 1 (2008-2015)

Phase 1 allocated roughly $33M towards projects for a 7 or 10-year payback. The Climate Action Plan projected up to a 5% reduction of the campus carbon footprint from ECI projects in Phase 1 and 2. 

Building Control Projects

  1. Appel Controls Upgrade

  2. Boyce Thompson Institute

  3. Bradfield Hall Airflow Reduction

  4. Carl A. Kroch Library

  5. Comstock Controls Upgrade

  6. Cornell Store

  7. Duffield Controls Upgrade

  8. Duffield Re-circulation Airflow Control

  9. Emerson Hall Heat Recovery

  10. Emerson Hall Controls Upgrade and Valve Replacement

  11. Growth Chamber Phase 1

  12. Kinzelberg Controls Upgrade

  13. Ives Hall Complex 

  14. Johnson Art Museum Controls Upgrade 

  15. Lynah Rink 

  16. Malott Hall

  17. Mann Library and Mann Library Addition 

  18. Plant Sciences Space Controls Upgrade

  19. Plant Sciences Steam Traps & Radiator Control Valves

  20. Riley Robb Heat Recovery

  21. Robert Purcell Community Center Space and Dining Kitchens Airflow Control

  22. Snee Hall Building Controls Upgrade

  23. Statler Hall Controls Upgrade

  24. Steam Pipe Insulation Repair and Replacement

  25. Upson Hall Space Temperature Controls Retrofit

  26. Veterinary Education Center Controls Upgrade

  27. Veterinary Research Tower Controls Upgrade

Lighting Projects

  1. Athletics LED Lighting Upgrade

  2. Campus-Wide LED Tube Replacement Lighting Upgrade (Featured Project, see above)

  3. Growth Chamber Phase 2

  4. Guterman Greenhouse Lighting and Controls

  5. Mann Library Elevator Lighting

  6. Reis Tennis Center Lighting Project

  7. Wilson Lab Lighting Controls

Equipment & Appliances

  1. Growth Chamber Phase 3

Building Envelope

  1. Rockefeller Hall Window Weatherization

Phase 3 (2020-Today)

As of 2020, Phase 3 is currently underway, with new projects identified through carbon, financial, and human benefit potential.  Check this page for updates as projects that are underway are completed.