Research laboratory buildings consume 5 to 10 times more energy than an office building of a similar size1. "Plug-in" equipment like computers, printers, copiers, laboratory equipment, and appliances account for 17% of energy use at a typical university, according to the U.S. Department of Energy2. In comparison to other institutional and commercial buildings, laboratories have unusually high plug loads — the energy required to run equipment such as servers, centrifuges, and spectroscopes1. Unplugging equipment that is not in use and utilizing the energy savings settings can go a long way in reducing energy demand. Some suggestions for curbing our energy usage related to laboratory equipment are listed below.
Unplug battery chargers and equipment when not in use. Plug-in battery chargers for can use up to 20 times more energy than is stored in the device’s battery—even when not actively charging a device, according to an EnergyStar web site3.
Does your research area have equipment that is cooled using chilled water? Reducing chilled water use is a great way to conserve energy at Vanderbilt. According to Labs21,
"Many pieces of lab equipment are "on" continuously, even when the process runs only a few hours per day or a few days per year. Often, the chilled water flow to some of this equipment is only a few gallons per minute. However, a continuous 1.5-gpm trickle flow through a small cooling unit adds up to 788,400 gallons of chilled water per year! Consider installing a control or solenoid valve in these applications allows water to flow only when the unit is being used. Another option is to use shut-off valves or timers to turn equipment off after normal working hours and when a process is shut down for maintenance or other reasons." 4
Labs21 also suggests to shut off lab equipment that is not in use, or install an automatic shut-off feature if it does not interfere with the unit’s normal operations5.
Here are some additional energy conservation tips for laboratories from our friends at University of Colorado at Boulder6.
Turn off equipment when it is not in use and encourage others to do the same.
For sophisticated equipment, make it simple for co-workers to turn off equipment by posting procedures for proper start-up and shutdown. Post instructions on or next to the equipment.
Turn off centrifuges overnight or over the weekend. Prop centrifuges lids open when turning off units to reduce condensation. If centrifuges have removable rotors, remove rotors to prevent rusting/fusing of the rotor to the shaft. For a faster cool-down, rotors can be stored in cold rooms or refrigerators with excess room.
Use one vacuum pump with a cold trap for multiple pieces of equipment requiring this set up.
Provide freezers/refrigerators with proper spacing (2-3 inches minimum clearance from walls or obstructions).
Eliminate unnecessary freezers/refrigerators by getting rid of unnecessary items and combining contents into fewer freezers/refrigerators. (Note: Please contact Plant Services or Plant Operations if your department needs to get rid of an appliance.)
Instead of buying a freezer/refrigerator for additional space, eliminate old samples, solutions etc. from existing freezers/refrigerators.
Keep refrigerators and freezers organized (give each person a section) so that clean up/removal of old samples is easier. Before a group moves out of your area, ask them to get rid of unnecessary samples and condense their items into the smallest space possible.
For researchers with walk-in coolers or freezers, you should properly load the unit. Overloaded refrigeration units result in disrupted airflow, while under loaded units are using more energy than needed7.
When it comes time to replace that old refrigerator, purchase an EnergyStar-rated replacement. EnergyStar-qualified models use at least 20% less energy than their modern counterparts, and 40% of the energy compared to conventional models sold as recently as 200110.
Energy conservation in research areas is a priority to Merck & Company, one of the largest research entities in the world. Watch this video on how Merck is reducing energy use in their research facilities.
Refer to manufacturer's instructions for specific directions on how to best power down your lab equipment, or contact the manufacturer's technical representative for more details.The End Result
If Vanderbilt decreases its power demand for equipment by 15%, it would avoid consuming over 1.5 megawatt-hours of electricity a day on peak days!But what does this mean?
That's the same amount of electricity consumed by an 35 average-sized homes in Nashville in a day.
As noted above, research labs consume 5 to 10 times more energy than an office building2, so the opportunity for energy savings in research areas is tremendous!Check The Math
17% of power for equipment x 60 megawatt-hours of consumption per day = 10.2
15% of 10.2 megawatts = 1.53 megawatts
Energy consumption of one average house in Nashville for a day = 0.043 megawatt-hours9
1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Labs21 Program, “An Introduction to Low Energy Design”, August 2000.
2 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Office, Building Technologies Program. “University Buildings”,
3 Energy Star™ web page “External Power Supplies”, 2008 .
4 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Labs21 Program, “Water Efficiency Guides for Laboratories”, May 2005.
5 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Labs21 Program, “Metrics
and Benchmarks for Energy Efficiency in Laboratories”, October 2007.
6 University of Colorado at Boulder, Lab Resource Conservation Tips, 2003.
7 Energy Star™ web page “Larger Opportunities: Refrigeration”, 2008.
9 Nashville Electric Service web page “Residential Rates”, 2008 .
10Energy Star web page "Refrigerators & Freezers" 2008.