The lights went out at Virginia Tech Thursday as part of a program to see just how much control the university has on its energy output in an effort to prepare for future emergencies. More than 50 people helped switch the campus over to emergency generators, unplug appliances, and shut down AC units for the drill.
"Everybody knows what they're supposed to do when they get that call," said Steven Shelor, the HVAC controls supervisor.
Virginia Tech got paid to prove they can reduce their energy usage on demand. For one hour, they had to drop from using 26,000 kilowatts to 19,000 kilowatts. It's a program run by the independent company Energy Connect, which is contracted by the state to prepare for emergencies.
"They have to give us at least an hour's notice [if] there's a grid emergency, a generation plant in trouble, [or] too much load on the grid [and they] need [us] to drop," said Shelor, who can shut down more than 100 HVAC systems on campus with the click of a mouse. "It's pretty neat to be able to do that on demand."
Last year, around 2 p.m. on a really hot day, they got a call telling them they needed to reduce their electricity use from 4-8 p.m. because a nuclear plant went down.
"We had to do this thing for real last summer," said Fred Selby, the VT energy manager who helped bring the program to campus. "We weren't sure how that was going to go, and everybody responded very well and we were successful in meeting the actual emergency condition."
Selby says in the last four years they've only had the emergency call once, but they could be called on up to 10 times from June through September.
"It's an opportunity for us to bring in some additional revenue," Selby said, by proving they can reduce energy use. In the last four years, they've raised more than $644,000 for the general fund: $162,210 in 2010; $205,380 in 2011; $138,521 in 2012; and $138,718 in 2013.
"It helps the college to get that money, plus we feel like we're doing our part to help the energy suppliers to be able to control their load" Shelor said.
Virginia Tech says they were able to drop 25percent of what they were using just by unplugging items on campus like phone chargers and turning off lights.
APCo has a similar program with customers who use a lot of electricity.