Energy 101
"Just the Facts" about Energy

UB Energy Facts

The University at Buffalo uses as much energy as a small city. Our energy bills are nearly $20 million a year.

UB's nationally recognized energy conservation program annually saves in excess of $10 million.

UB is the largest purchaser of wind energy in New York State. The University is buying 12 million kilowatt hours of wind energy in 2004 from the Fenner Wind Farm near Syracuse, New York. By July 2005 UB's renewable energy purchases will increase to 20 million kilowatt hours per year to meet Governor's Executive Order 111, which requires state agencies to meet 10% of their electric needs from renewable sources.

A single degree of over-heating or over-cooling on campus costs UB $100,000 a year.

UB's $17 million North Campus comprehensive energy conservation project (1994-1997) was awarded Energy Project of the Year in 1998 by the Association of Energy Engineers. The University is now embarking on a similar $12 million project for the South Campus.


The Big Picture

The United States represents 5% of the world's population, but uses 25% of the world's energy.

On a per person basis, Americans use approximately twice as much energy as the Germans and British, three times as much energy as the Japanese, and as much as 50 times as much energy as people in some developing countries.

Whenever we use energy, unintended environmental and social consequences occur. This includes air pollution, smog, respiratory illness, acid rain, global warming from burning fossil fuels, water pollution from oil spills, radioactive waste production from nuclear power plants, and the destruction of land from coal mining (open pit and mountain top removal) and oil or gas drilling.

Most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels - coal, oil and natural gas. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and is primarily used for electricity generation in the U.S. But even natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel, produces heat-trapping carbon dioxide and acid rain and smog-producing nitrogen oxides.

Air pollution doesn't conform to political boundaries. When power plants in other states like Ohio and Virginia burn coal without adequate pollution controls, acid rain-producing emissions from these plants damage lakes and forests in New York State.

Pollution from U.S. power plants cause damage in Canada and pollution from a large Canadian coal-burning power plant on Lake Erie affects air quality in downwind Buffalo.

An increasing number of geologists and energy analysts predict that global oil production will peak within 5 to 30 years and after that, annual global production of oil will inevitably drop, even though human population will continue to grow as will the demand for oil and other energy resources. This dynamic is a recipe for higher energy prices and increased conflict over dwindling oil supplies. Even prior to reaching global peak production, oil prices may remain high because of surging demand from rapidly growing economies in China and India as well as continued high demand by the United States, which consumes 20 million barrels of oil each day.

Sixty-five percent of existing global oil reserves lie in the politically volatile Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the largest reserves. The second largest reserves are believed to be in Iraq.

The fuel economy of American cars and trucks has actually dropped over the last 20 years. Current fuel economy standards were developed in the mid-1980s and permit lower efficiency for SUVs and other "light trucks." Nearly half of the "cars" purchased in 2003 were SUVs, mini-vans and pick-up trucks.

There is a scientific consensus on global warming and climate change. In 1995 the 2,000-member Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that global warming is real, is occurring now, and is fueled by human activity - primarily the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests, which increase the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The IPCC predicts that global average surface temperature will rise between 3 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.

Globally, the five hottest years on record have all occurred since 1997, and the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1990.

Even a couple of degrees rise in average temperature could significantly increase the intensity and frequency of heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and other extreme weather events. Climate change could also cause significant damage to flora, fauna, ecosystems, and agriculture, as well as cause sea levels to rise, threatening island nations and coastal areas. Climate change could also produce a cooling effect. If the Atlantic Ocean's gulf stream slows, northern Europe could see much colder weather.

The United States has rejected the Kyoto Treaty, which calls for modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. an 8% reduction by 2008-2012 compared to 1990). Many scientists believe that a much greater reduction in emissions is required to stabilize climate.

Nuclear waste from nuclear power plants must remain sequestered from the environment and from human contact for 250,000 years. Such waste contains plutonium, which, if extracted and refined, can be used to make nuclear bombs.

No new nuclear power plants have been planned in the United States since the 1979 nuclear plant accident at Three Mile Island just south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


Now for the Good News: the Power of Energy Conservation and Efficiency

The average family can easily reduce its energy consumption by 50% or more through sensible, cost-effective energy conservation and efficiency measures.

Fluorescent lights are 4 to 5 times more efficient than incandescent lighting. When you replace an incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light, you can save $50 in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb. Also, compact fluorescent lights last 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs.

The power management features on a computer and monitor can reduce computer energy consumption by as much as 90% when in an energy saving "sleep mode."

The "Energy Star" label designates energy-efficient home appliances and electronic products. The higher prices of these efficient products are quickly repaid in energy savings. See

Some new homes now also bear the Energy Star label. These homes must be at least 30% more energy efficient than homes built to the 1993 National Model Energy Code, or 15% more efficient than state energy code, whichever is more rigorous.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) provides funding to subsidize the purchase of energy-efficient home heating systems and home improvements. For more information, go to

New hybrid gas-electric vehicles optimize fuel economy by coupling an internal combustion engine with electric motors and batteries. This drive train allows hybrids to save energy by turning off instead of idling and recovering energy during braking.

Due primarily to improvements in energy efficiency, the U.S. economy now uses 42% less energy per dollar of economic output than it did in 1973.

Switching from electric heat to natural gas heat not only reduces energy costs but also saves energy. That's because when a thermal electric power plant (fossil fuel-burning or nuclear) makes electricity, two-thirds of the energy content in the fuel is lost as waste heat. Thus, if you want heat, its best to produce it by directly burning natural gas than by using the natural gas to make electricity and then using the electricity to make heat.


More Good News: The Power of Renewable Energy

Using photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar energy works well for passive solar heating, daylighting, and electrical generation even in Buffalo with our cloudy fall and early winter.

A properly designed solar home in Buffalo could have energy bills 50 to 75% lower than a conventional home.

Solar energy is a diffuse energy source. For it to meet a significant fraction of our energy needs, those energy needs must first be significantly reduced through conservation and efficiency improvements.

In New York, residents can now buy "green power" for their homes and businesses. Green electric power may come from wind energy, hydroelectric dams, or from biomass (typically burning landfill methane gas). Green power generally costs one to two cents more per kilowatt-hour than conventional fuels. Buy Green Power!

Wind energy is regarded as the cleanest form of green power because it produces no emissions. When you purchase wind energy for your home, you are helping to promote the further development of wind resources in New York.

Wind is one of Buffalo's natural resources, especially along its shoreline. In the coming years, we may see large wind turbines on brownfield sites or offshore just south of downtown Buffalo.

New York also offers residential "net-metering." That means that homeowners can install residential solar electric photovoltaic systems that are grid-connected. With net-metering, PV systems do not require batteries. Excess PV electric production runs the homeowner's electric meter backwards, thus reducing monthly electric costs from the utility.

NYSERDA provides financial incentives to cut the cost of installing PV. There is also a tax credit available for residential installations. Together, these subsidies can decrease the cost of PV by about 50%.

There have been a variety of barriers to renewable energy development, including the relatively low price of energy from conventional sources and the subsidies these resources have historically received. Another barrier is primarily cost. Renewable energy technologies tend to have a high initial cost while fuel costs may be zero as in the case of a wind turbine or a solar electric panel. As the price of energy from conventional sources rises, energy from renewable sources will become more cost-competitive. Renewable energy technologies might be cost-competitive today if all the environmental and social costs associated with the production and generation of energy from conventional sources were factored into its price.