Critics of the energy deal have likened it to an off-the-books loan. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Social Media Editor

A signature component of Ohio State’s unprecedented public-private partnership with French energy company Engie was the promise to improve the university’s energy efficiency by 25 percent over the next decade, but Engie executives said Tuesday they believe they will exceed that goal.

Ohio State Energy Partners — a partnership comprised of Engie and Axium, an investment firm, created to help secure a 50-year deal to manage the university’s energy assets — received approval Friday from the Board of Trustees to start updating campus energy infrastructure.

In an interview Tuesday with The Lantern, Engie CFO Judith Hartmann and Energy Partners CEO Serdar Tufekci outlined a rough plan on how exactly they intend to cut unnecessary energy consumption from Ohio State’s Columbus campus using building audits and what they call smart energy.

Tufekci said during Engie’s bid for the Ohio State partnership, which originated two years ago, the company had the opportunity to access and evaluate campus, at which point it realized it could meet the efficiency expectations Ohio State had.

“Twenty-five percent seems a lot, and that’s ambitious, but like I said, we do this in many, many places and there’s lots of opportunities,” Hartmann said.

The opportunities begin with replacing equipment on campus that Tufekci described as “near retirement age” with more efficient new-age technology. Some parts of the plan will happen more quickly, like replacing streetlights, but the most important way for the Energy Partners to exceed its efficiency goals is through building audits.

“As those programs start and we start executing them, the audit and development team will go look at the next level and then the next level and then it will progress,” Tufekci said.

A well-done audit could be completed within a week, Tufekci said. The purpose of audits is to identify specific inefficient aspects where each building could improve. Fixes could include physical updates such as new insulation, but Hartmann said it also includes analyzing building usage, lighting and temperature.

Tufekci added there will be collaboration with students and student organizations.

“While a lot of [efficiency enhancements] will be technological and physical installations, some component will be behavioral economics and we’re really looking forward to the students to be a part of that voluntarily,” he said.

Hartmann stressed Engie’s capability to handle this task due to its place as a global energy player.

“Energy efficiency, that’s what our company does all day long in many, many countries,” Hartmann said. Engie currently operates in 70 countries, according to its website.

Engie’s improvement projects on campus have yet to be set in stone. They also won’t all happen immediately, Tufekci said.

“It’s not going to be for two, three years we evaluate and then execute,” he said. “Some things will happen in parallel.”

The 2017-18 academic year is the beginning of the 50-year deal with Energy Partners, a partnership that Hartmann believes has the ability to flourish in the coming decades.

“We’ll start with some of the things that we’ve laid out in the beginning and see where we can expand this partnership,” Hartmann said.