GVSU faculty member named Energy Engineer of the Year

Terry Pahl's work for sustainability, energy efficiency earned him national recognition

By Riley Collins | 10/12/16 8:58pm

GVL / Courtesy - Terry Pahl
by Terry Pahl and Terry Pahl / The Lanthorn

Over the last decade and a half, Grand Valley State University has taken strides to increase the efficiency and sustainability of its facilities. Much of this work – which consists of a wide array of projects like replacing less energy efficient light fixtures and energy use in housing units – involves GVSU facilities engineer Terry Pahl.

Pahl, who has been working at GVSU for over 17 years, was recently named Energy Engineer of the Year by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) – a worldwide nonprofit recognizing individuals and organizations for contributions to the energy industry. The AEE has a membership base in 98 countries and Pahl received the award for region three of the U.S., which covers most of the Midwest.

Pahl said GVSU has been seeing a gigantic amount of cost avoidance over its four campuses in the 2016 fiscal year compared to that of 2002.

“It would have cost Grand Valley an extra $3.3 (million) for water, electricity, natural gas, and steam had we not implemented energy-efficient practices,” he said.

It is for big stats like this to show the effects of over 300 sustainability projects that Pahl was named energy engineer of the year. On a day-to-day basis, however, he works toward completing various tasks that can include anything from coordinating snow melt sensors to making energy source choices based on economics, for example using natural gas instead of steam.

“By the end of 2016, Grand Valley will avoid utility costs of at least $2.3 million annually through the use of energy-efficient procedures,” he said.

It is the small changes Pahl helps implement that cut costs in the university budget, allowing those amounts to be put toward other expenses.

This reduction in energy consumption and utilities costs, despite substantial growth in campus area and enrollment, was the basis for Pahl’s nomination. GVSU’s student body has been steadily growing, and those large numbers became incentive to update the university’s current practices. Pahl said sometimes it’s the little changes that add up the quickest, resulting in that goal.

Anyone can see the evidence of his contributions just by walking through campus. Tim Thimmesch, associate vice president of GVSU facilities knows Pahl as a close colleague and leader within the facilities department.

“He came highly recommended from one of the engineering firms in Grand Rapids,” Thimmesch said. He works closely with Pahl on his initiatives at GVSU.

Though his bachelor’s degree is in mechanical engineering, Pahl has turned his career toward energy engineering and sustainability, and recognized an opportunity to utilize his skills in the field at a quickly expanding GVSU.

“I’ve been working with him for about 19 years now (and) he’s taken leadership in energy roles,” Thimmesch said. “He has truly become an asset to the university.”

Thimmesch said in his opinion, Pahl has taken it on himself to help create a university that stays ahead of less-efficient alternatives to everyday energy usage.

“He does what’s required and then some," he said. "He's dedicated, loyal and stays on top of energy initiatives, especially in regard to the university."

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