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Steam Whistle

With over 24,000 students and 10,000 employees, the University of Kansas (KU) is a large consumer of energy, using about 795,000 MBTU of energy every year and spending more than $12.6 million on energy costs including electricity, natural gas, and steam. This consumption results in the release of more than 166,602 metric tons of carbon emissions (MT eCO2) each year. We are therefore committed to a policy of energy efficiency and energy conservation to reduce our fiscal and environmental impacts.

There are over 130 buildings on campus, and it’s likely that you visit several of them throughout the day. You can view how much energy is being used by each building in the Buildings section.

Learn more energy actions you can take to reduce campus energy use.


The University of Kansas purchases electricity, natural gas, water, stormwater management, and trash removal services from outside utility suppliers. However, the university does own and maintain the infrastructure used to distribute electricity, steam, and water to the many buildings on campus. This infrastructure includes:

• Three electrical distribution systems (one on the main campus and two smaller systems on the west campus);

• Chilled water piping to 17 buildings served by a 3 chiller plants;

• Piping to distribute steam (produced by four boilers on main campus to 52 buildings and three boilers on west campus to three buildings) and to return condensate to the boilers; and

• Water lines for distributing water to buildings on the main and west campuses.


The University purchases all of its electricity from Wind Energy from Westar Energy. The vast majority of electricity is used in campus buildings for lighting, equipment, ventilation, heating, and cooling.

Natural Gas

Natural gas from CenterPoint Energy and Black Hills Energy is used primarily to fuel the Power Plant that distributes steam to buildings for heating and hot water. Buildings not on the main steam distribution system use natural gas for heating and to produce hot water within the building.


The current steam Power Plant, near the corner of Sunnyside and Sunflower, was built in 1922. Four large boilers convert water to steam beneath the structure which is then sent through more than 16,000 lineal feet of tunnel systems that cross the main campus, some dating to the 1880s. The steam whistle, the “big tooter”, at the Power Plant remains a KU tradition since 1912.

West Campus has a smaller steam plant under the Multidisciplinary Research Building that houses three boilers to provide steam for heating at three buildings on west campus.

Buildings not on the main steam distribution system use natural gas for heating and to produce hot water within the building.

Chilled Water

Chilled water is used in the HVAC systems to cool the air as it passes by coils containing the chilled water. Some buildings produce their own chilled water or share chilled water with another building. Nevertheless, there are three locations or plants (two on main campus and one on west campus) where chilled water is produced at a central location and sent to multiple buildings (17 total).


Most water used by the University of Kansas is supplied by the City of Lawrence through two main meters.

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