UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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Energy Summit-hosted by Connecticut Light and Power

On Tuesday, February 18, representatives from CL&P hosted an energy summit at the Nathan Hale Inn to collaborate with UConn’s energy employees as well as members from other departments and determine next steps for the University’s energy goals.  The summit started off with a recap of what UConn is currently working on and what successes the University has accomplished thus far.  For example, in the past three years UConn has prevented 39,370 tons of coal and 117,985 barrels of oil from being burned.  Additionally, we were ranked #1 in 2013 for Sierra Club’s Cool Schools Survey.  Going forward UConn plans to mitigate the impact of a growing university through behavior change in the community, retrocommissioning of old buildings, and making sure that all new buildings are as energy efficient as possible.

CL&P invited Walt Henry, a former professor at MIT and current energy consultant to share his experiences at MIT with UConn.  According to Henry, an energy efficient building does not have to cost more than a standard building. “A building is like a cake,” he said “the ingredients in the cake itself are what’s most important, not the frosting and cherry.”  What he means by this is that all you need to do in order to make an energy efficient building within budget is to spend your money in the right places.  Instead of focusing on fancy extras that may seem important, you should focus on using the right materials in the right places.  For example, instead of spending money on limestone, use cast stone.  It is less expensive and works just as well.  You should however invest the money on good spray foam insulation and windows since air tight walls increase efficiency.

Henry ended his presentation with some key take-aways that may help UConn when making the designs for new buildings. For one thing, architects and engineers must collaborate so that the structure of the building and the internals work together.  Also it is important to take intelligent risks, knowing what could possibly go wrong, but not being afraid to be a leader in sustainable building.  Finally, Henry noted his opinion on how LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-a current ranking system for many green buildings) should not drive the design of a new building.  The planners should make the best building they can and then use LEED as a yardstick.  This way, they have the chance to be innovative and possibly even make a better building than LEED calls for.

Going forward, UConn still has many things to consider and there is always room for improvement.  However, meetings like this increase collaboration among UConn departments, our partner CL&P, and other universities to help turn the best ideas into reality one step at a time.

-Katie


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Texas Turbines

Over the summer, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to take a three-week road trip with my parents and two of my siblings through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.  Having grown up in the Northeast, it was shocking to see states with such different terrain and landscapes.  Much of the time, the land and skies seemed endless, mainly due to the lack of trees compared to places like Connecticut (go UConn!)

Wind Turbines

While it was a little bizarre driving through such flat, open land, it’s because of this terrain that I had one of the most inspiring experiences of my trip.  My family and I were driving along I40 through the northern stub of Texas when we came across an amazing scene: massive, white wind turbines lined the interstate, side-by-side for miles.

I gazed at the turbines in complete awe.  I’ve always been fascinated by alternative energy sources, and was excited to see machines harnessing wind power up-close and personal.  This experience prompted me to research more about wind turbines and farms.

To put the size of these turbines in perspective, the blades can be up to 150 feet long, giving them a rotor diameter the length of a football field!  These giant structures are relatively cheap to build, quick to construct, and produce renewable energy through capturing kinetic energy in the wind and turning it into mechanical power.  Because harnessing wind energy does not produce CO2, wind turbines also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 In addition, there are two types of wind turbines.  Horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT) are the most common and rotate horizontally, whereas vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) rotate vertically.

 I was excited to learn that UConn has explored plans for small HAWTs at three sites on campus.  Although right now, it looks like the installation of wind turbines is not cost effective for UConn (due to our highly efficient Co-Gen plant), it’s good to know it could be an option in the future!

– Kerrin

Sources:

http://www.summitenergy.com/blog/2011/03/winding-up-wind/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_turbine#Types


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LEED: Minimizing UConn’s Environmental Footprint

by OEP intern Emily McInerney

leedsilverOn March 25, 2008 President Hogan signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). This pledge led way for UConn’s Climate Action Plan: a comprehensive outline that strategizes and maps out sustainability initiatives to help UConn reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Carbon neutrality is defined as proportional amounts of carbon released and carbon sequestered. This can be achieved through carbon offsets such as our Co-gen facility or something as simple as planting a tree. Realistically, however, carbon neutrality does not mean a zero carbon footprint. For UConn, the aim is to have the 2050 carbon emissions 86% below our 2007 levels. One of the very first initiatives implemented at UConn to lower GHG emissions was the adoption of our own Campus Sustainable Design Guidelines. These guidelines apply to both the construction of new buildings as well as the renovation of preexisting buildings.

The Sustainable Design and Construction Policy requires a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification as a minimum performance standard for all projects that exceed $5 million. The U.S. Green Building Council developed LEED to act as an international green building certification system. LEED buildings offer savings in water and energy, reduce GHG emissions, improve air quality to promote health safety for occupants, and lower operating costs.

Oak Hall

Oak Hall

Most recently, the construction of two new buildings at UConn, Laurel and Oak Hall, have been completed that fulfill the LEED silver requirement. Oak Hall is set next to Homer Babbidge Library at the site of the former Co-op. Laurel is located where the Pharmacy building was originally constructed. These locations prevented the clearing of forests, wetlands, and other natural environments. There are several sustainable features that are important to note. From the outside, porous pavement reduces storm water runoff and flooding by providing storage and infiltration during storm events and a bio retention basin reduces harmful storm water runoff by collecting and holding storm water. The area is lined with native vegetation that provides habitat and food for local species. To reduce transportation CO2 emissions, biking is encouraged. There are 132 bicycle rack spaces available to facilitate bike transit.

Moving inside the building, the focus is on increased energy and water savings. The bathroom offers dual flush toilets and electric hand dryers to reduce paper waste. The combination of all water efficient features is anticipated to reduce water usage by 48%. The high performance windows both increase natural lighting which reduces energy costs and provide insulation through window glazing which reduce heating and cooling needs. Laurel is expected to have 16% energy savings and Oak is estimated to have 18% energy savings.

Visually speaking, LEED buildings are most notable for the recycled content and renewable materials that comprise their exterior paneling and interior walls and floors. Oak Hall uses bamboo for wall panels, recycled copper for the exterior siding and regional bricks. The bamboo is more sustainable than wood because it only take 3-5 years to harvest, the copper is made up of 80-95% recycled content, and the bricks are produced within 500 miles of campus. Approximately 75% of construction waste was diverted from landfills and reused or recycled.

Beyond sustainability, LEED buildings also have health benefits. Indoor environmental quality is improved through green cleaning products that are biodegradable, have low toxicity and low volatile organic compound content (VOC), and have reduced packaging. All plywood is formaldehyde-free and adhesives, sealants and paint have low or no VOC. Both Oak and Laurel are definite eye catchers. These buildings are not only environmentally friendly and cost effective but also aesthetically pleasing.  It is something to appreciate that sustainability can be characterized as modern and hip. For those interested in seeing how these LEED buildings affect UConn’s GHG emissions, the Office of Environmental Policy is planning to upload energy and water saving dashboards online.

Here are some examples of the sustainability features in Oak and Laurel Halls:


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EcoMadness Final Results 2012!

The final results on EcoMadness 2012 are in!

Energy

Throughout the competition, Buckley has held the number one spot for lowest daily per capita usage of energy, at 3.7 kWh per student per day.  Their hard work and dedication kept them in the lead, and as a reward they will have a free UConn Dairy Bar ice cream party in addition to bragging rights!

In the energy reduction category, Sherman/Webster of Towers held the lead for three weeks. However, during our double or nothing final week of competition, Whitney scrambled ahead in the final moments! They had held a top three position throughout the competition, but Whitney beat out Sherman/Webster by a slim 0.03% finishing for a 20.5% total reduction in energy consumption.

Of the 23 participating dorms, 21 successfully reduced their energy consumption by a total average of 8.5%. The average per capita use was 4.4 kWh per day.

Water

Sprague, the new home of EcoHouse, was the clear winner for water reduction with an incredible final reduction of 21.0%! For some perspective on what a major accomplishment this was, the second place dorm reduced by 13.0%. Since the second week of competition, Sprague held its leading spot with steady improvements each week.   Another winner who held their position consistently throughout EcoMadness was Hamilton/Wade/Fenwick/Keller of Towers with an average per capita consumption of 32.0 gallons of water per day throughout the course of the competition.

Nine of the 23 dorms reduced their water consumption by an overall average of 2.9%.  Excluding the dorms whose water consumption was unchanged, the average reduction in water consumption was 7.1%.  The average per capita use of water was 39.9 gallons per day. (Converting that to its weight, the average per capita use is 334 lbs of water daily!)

An honorable mention goes out to our second and third place dorms for all four winning categories:

Per Capita Energy: Holcomb (2nd Place) and Batterson (3rd Place)
Energy Use Reduction (%): Sherman/Webster (2nd Place) and Hollister A/Hollister B (3rd Place)

Per Capita Water: Terry (2nd Place) and Spraque (33.4)
Water Use Reduction: Alsop A/Alsop B (2nd Place) and Whitney (3rd Place)

The overall final results are as follows:

Water Reduction Winner:
Sprague (21% Reduction)

Energy Reduction Winner:
Whitney (East) (20.5% Reduction)

Water Usage Per Capita Winner:
Hamilton/Wade/Fenwick/Keller (32 gallons)

Energy Usage Per Capita Winner:
Buckley (3.7 kWh)

Congratulations to all the dorms that successfully reduced their water and/or energy consumption during the course of EcoMadness.  Keep up the good work and remember to keep conserving!


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Retro-commissioning at UConn

by Alexander Samalot, OEP Intern

The variable frequency drive

UConn is currently undergoing a significant conservation and construction effort that many students may not know about. Currently buildings are becoming drastically more efficient through adjustments in the way energy is handled. I recently sat in on Sebesta’s (an engineering and design service company hired by the school) meeting. They were explaining to the UConn Utility services the changes that have been made across campus followed by a tour of the newest completed building, the Agricultural Biotechnology Laboratory.

What Sebesta has done is a process called retro-commissioning. It involves specifying building occupancy schedules, allowing for certain utilities to be turned down or off when not needed. Previously buildings would run the CO2 and heating/cooling ventilation based on the hours that the building had expected use. This wastes a tremendous amount of energy for unused space. Even small changes in the run time and rate of heaters and chillers and ventilation can have exponential savings.

The pumps controlled by the variable frequency drive

Most of the explanation regarded the changes in the newest retro commissioned building, the agriculture biotech facility. Due to these changes there is supposed to be an annual savings of $112,000. The large number of laboratories in the building needs a significant amount of ventilation for the potentially dangerous chemicals. The laboratory I toured was a Biosafety level two (out of four). It is not a life threatening area; biosafety level two simply means certain biological agents may be used in the lab, which demonstrates the need for lab ventilation.

There are three places which were specifically retro-fitted; one is the lab itself, the fume hood and the biosafety cabinet.  There are new controls using top of the line technology such as infrared and camera controlled zone pressure sensors. This is a very technical way of describing a box which detects if someone is sitting in front of the hood, which automatically turns off the ventilation when not in use. Also there are new valves called VAV’s which open and close using a mechanical arm when not in use and operate at a highly reduced flow. The building itself offers Variable Frequency Drives which are newer computers controlling water and air pump motors that move all of the warm and cool air and water throughout the building. These controllers drastically decrease the energy costs of the building causing very large savings and reduced energy use.

The Retro commissioning project is a great example of how new technology can be successfully implemented to have a large effect on campus. The existing buildings have had their existing infrastructure optimized resulting in notable reductions in energy use and savings for the school. With the construction of so many new buildings on campus focused on sustainability , it’s important to remember that there are buildings on campus that are over sixty years old that have significant room for improvement.


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Sustainability Exchange – Part 4: Freiburg Uni Sustainability

A UConn “Sustainability Exchange” Experience – Sustainable Energy at Freiburg University

Knowing from my research in preparation for this trip, and now from my conversations with local officials, how much people look to the region for its unique solar and renewable energy technology cluster, it was easy to understand why Freiburg Uni has responded by developing strong academic programs that educate future green industry entrepreneurs, leaders and policy-makers.  Dr. Stefan Adler arranged for my lecture to his graduate students in the most rapidly successful of these programs – the MS degree program in Renewable Energy Management (REM).  He also told me about the partnership between his academic home, the Center for Renewable Energy, and the government-funded Fraunhoffer Solar Energy Institute, located about a mile away from the Center beyond the sprawling Freiburg Uni hospital and medical school campus. REM faculty members conduct research, lectures, seminars and conferences at the Fraunhoffer Institute.  I walked there and saw several arrays on and around the building and, inside, a display promoting the institute’s impressive 5th annual International Solar Summit, scheduled for this October in Freiburg.

The main entrance to the Fraunhoffer Solar Energy Institute (above) is a 20-30 minute walk from the Center for Renewable Energy on Freiburg Uni’s campus. Dr. Adler and other solar faculty members partner with the government-funded institute.

A display in the institute’s main lobby promoted the upcoming 5th annual Solar Summit in Freiburg. 

Dr. Adler’s 29 REM graduate students from 20 different countries were bright, engaged and fluent in English, a requirement for admission.  I presented an overview of UConn’s sustainability initiatives and activities, focusing on our 2010 Climate Action Plan (CAP) for a carbon-neutral campus by 2050 and delving into our progress in implementing several energy and transportation related strategies. When I spoke with pride about how we’ve made UConn’s very clean and efficient cogeneration facility the central energy source for an increasing number of campus buildings, the student skepticism about the cogen’s natural gas fuel source was palpable but polite.  Nonetheless, I explained, our 25 MW cogen plant has displaced the use of less efficient boilers and generators, which used much more carbon-intensive petroleum diesel fuels, and it now supplies nearly 80% of the heat and power for our main campus.  The students had a similar reaction when I told them about UConn’s installation this past spring of a 400 kW UTC Power hydrogen fuel cell at our Depot Campus.  The fuel cell extracts hydrogen from – you guessed it – natural gas. Then, through a catalytic process, instead of combustion, it generates most of the electricity and some of the heat for the Depot extension of our main campus.  Each year, this fuel cell will avoid the consumption of millions of gallons of cooling water and the emissions of many air pollutants, including 800 tons of CO2, versus the conventional power sources that would be needed to produce a comparable amount of energy.

The REM students pointed out: “But natural gas is 100% fossil fuel!  How can that even be a bridge to a truly sustainable strategy? Isn’t the US just delaying the transition to renewable energy by switching from one fossil fuel to another, coal to natural gas?”  I think most of them understood the economic and political realities in the US, and elsewhere around the globe, that have made the transition to renewable energy slower than any of us would like. But they raised good questions that led to a lively discussion.  One student encouraged me to develop more ambitious interim carbon-reduction targets for UConn’s CAP. I loved the students’ passion for renewable energy and enjoyed our policy-level dialogue.

Dr. Juergen Steck, my principal Freiburg Uni host and counterpart, who is the “Umweltschutz” director overseeing both environmental compliance and sustainability, filled me in on the use of renewable energy in campus operations.  He was one of the university project leaders charged with meeting the 550 kW goal of the Solar Uni initiative. He and his staff of nine, including a climate protection manager, keep meticulous records and file detailed reports about greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations. They also maintain data about metered and un-metered energy use in campus buildings as well as energy production from various sources, including solar power. At his desktop computer, he opened several Excel spreadsheets and graphs that had been prepared to ensure compliance with Germany’s climate protection laws.

In our conversations, Dr. Steck shared his concerns that the campus had literally run out of rooftop space for additional solar arrays.  Based on the abundance of arrays and several green roofs already installed on campus buildings, he worried whether there would be any remaining rooftops available with the necessary characteristics: proper orientation to sunlight, structural integrity, and at least a 20-year remaining lifespan. As in the US, a number of Freiburg’s older campus buildings are protected by historic preservation laws and remain off-limits to solar panels.

According to my Freiburg Uni counterpart, green roofs like this one, which was visible from the upper-floor offices across the quad, along with 550 kW of rooftop solar arrays already installed, have used most of the available space on campus for future solar installations.

Beyond solar, the rest of Freiburg Uni’s energy picture is also tinted green.  Dr. Steck explained how the campus uses groundwater for geothermal cooling of half of its buildings. It’s a non-consumptive, non-contact cooling use of the naturally cold water drawn from the aquifer underlying the university’s campus. His department’s job is to make sure that the water is returned to the aquifer, after its use, free of any chemicals or other contaminants and no more than 5 degrees Celsius warmer than when it was pumped out. For the rest of the campus heating and cooling needs, he told me that, only recently, after a long and careful analysis, Freiburg Uni switched from burning coal at its central utility plant to burning biomass, comprised of wood chips from a sustainably-harvested local forest.

Despite all of these green energy attributes, I wondered how much the typical Freiburg undergrad was aware of the university’s commitment to sustainability and renewable resources. At UConn, we’ve just completed our Renewable Energy Strategic Plan for deploying demonstration-scale sustainable energy projects on our campus over the next five to seven years.  For us, the public visibility and academic accessibility of future projects were, and will be, important site selection criteria. We hope to integrate tours of these installations into various courses, from science and engineering to the humanities. At Freiburg, on the other hand, none of the Solar Uni rooftop arrays was visible, much less accessible, to students or the general public.  I was told the university had installed an energy dashboard, not at the student center or a large classroom building, but at the Rector’s inner-city office, blocks away from academic buildings and daily student traffic.  Maybe when your campus is in the middle of Germany’s “Green City,” where renewable energy has flourished for decades and installations are commonplace, there isn’t as much of a need for high visibility demonstration projects.

On an overcast day, wind mills in the Black Forest (center) on the edge of the city, were faintly visible from the Freiburg Uni campus.

(Next – Part 5: Final Thoughts)


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Sustainability Exchange – Part 3: Renewable Energy

A UConn “Sustainability Exchange” Experience – Renewable Energy in Freiburg, Germany

This is the third in a series of blog posts by Rich Miller, UConn’s Director of Environmental Policy, comparing and contrasting aspects of environmental sustainability at Freiburg University (Albert Ludwig University at Freiburg or Freiburg Uni) and in the “Green City” of Freiburg, Germany, with similar sustainability aspects and metrics at the University of Connecticut (UConn) and its main campus located in Storrs, within the small town of Mansfield and the rural surroundings of northeastern CT.  Rich received a professional staff travel grant from UConn’s Office of Global Programs and used it to visit Freiburg over a two-week period in July 2012 for this international sustainability exchange program.

What would you expect from Germany’s “solar city?”  Taking advantage of the fact that it’s located in the sunniest region of the country – a relative distinction compared with the often cloudy and cool northern Europe – Freiburg has installed more solar panels than any other city in Deutschland, and more than many countries in Europe.  Dr. Stefan Adler, the enthusiastic Director of Uni Freiburg’s Center for Renewable Energy, explained to me how the city’s green reputation and passion for solar energy was borne during the 1970s from a grassroots fight against a proposed nuclear facility, which was planned for an area just northwest of Freiburg, along the Rhine River.  The protestors, led by local farmers, prevailed and the nuclear plant was never built.  Today, the long-time Green Party mayor, Dieter Salomon, remains a popular incumbent, and solar panels, wind turbines and small hydro-electric facilities have been part of the cityscape in Freiburg for years.  The anti-nuclear sentiment remains strong among the general population and, decades later, is still part of the sustainable energy message communicated by the mayor’s office and local businesses.

Solar panels are on many buildings in Freiburg, like this photovoltaic array on the side of an office building near the main train station. Freiburg has more than 12.3 MW of solar PV (mostly roof-mounted), which generates more than 10 million kWh of electricity a year.

Old meets new: New wind-power turbines on the edge of the Black Forest overlook Freiburg and the 800-year old Munsterplatz cathedral. A total of five Freiburg wind mills produce 14 million kWh per year and two more are planned. (F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)

A few small hydro-electric facilities can be seen along the Dreisam River, which flows across the southern portion of the city. Freiburg’s hydro power produces nearly 2 million kWh a year and 80% of the electricity used to run the regional trams. (F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)

I met with Dr. Franziska Breyer, the city’s environmental director, in the town hall or Rathaus (a German word with an unfortunate double entendre in English), to talk about Freiburg’s plan for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.  She was busily preparing for an important meeting of a town commission that evening, when she was hoping for the board’s approval to raise the bar on Freiburg’s interim carbon reduction goals.  Dr. Breyer, who is a forester by training, and a former faculty member at Freiburg Uni, was also pressed for time because her job title and management portfolio had recently been expanded to include youth, schools and education. With that kind of addition to her workload, I was grateful that she could spend any time meeting with me, much less an hour, and I appreciated the presentation materials she gave me from her latest annual report to town officials: “Approaches to Sustainability – traffic policy, climate protection and urban development planning in Freiburg.”  Many of the facts and figures cited in this report are from these excellent presentation materials.

In addition to the governmental, residential and commercial building owners who have installed solar arrays throughout the inner city and surrounding village districts, Freiburg University has also made a large investment in roof-mounted solar PV.  On the university’s 550th anniversary in 2007, their Rector (chief academic official) announced a “Solar Uni” initiative with the ambitious goal of installing 550 kW of solar panels on campus over the next five years. Using government incentive programs that ensure a guaranteed rate of return for solar investors, many people, including students, faculty and staff, actually acquired equity shares in these on-campus installations and, by 2012, the Solar Uni initiative achieved its lofty goal.  In turn, these same incentive programs stimulated the growth of German solar developers and manufacturers, several of which are clustered in and around Freiburg.

Solar PV and thermal technology is not only a significant source of power and heat in Freiburg but also has stimulated an industry cluster that is important to the regional economy. (Photo of Solar Fabrik office building courtesy of F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)

Freiburg combines its long-standing commitment to renewable energy with more recent conservation-focused laws and resolutions proclaiming goals and mandates like: (i) zero-carbon development on land that it owns, (ii) more energy efficient replacement windows on existing homes, and (iii) low energy standards for new homes.  For example, in the Green City’s Vauban eco-district, which was established in the mid-1990s through the redevelopment of the barracks in a former French military base, homebuilders must ensure that new residential buildings waste no more than 65 kWh per square meter annually – a fraction of the average for most homes in northern Europe.  Walking down the main street in Vauban, along the two tram lines leading into and out of Freiburg’s inner-city, one sees solar panels, playgrounds and small parks everywhere. Cars are prohibited within Vauban’s pedestrian village, which also gets the bulk of its electricity and thermal energy from a centralized combined heat and power biomass plant.

As I left the eco-district and headed back to Freiburg’s inner-city on the tram, I checked “Vauban” off the list of destinations on my official Green City tour map.  It had been well worth my time and the four euro roundtrip tram fare, but I was thankful that I hadn’t paid 180 euros for the two-hour guided tour.  Eco-tourism is a big business in Freiburg, including group tours of man-made features, like Vauban, and nature excursions to places like the Black Forest.

Solar panels are on the rooftop of virtually every apartment building in the Vauban eco-district. Envisioning an affordable, sustainable energy community, Freiburg developed Vauban in the early-1990s by converting the barracks of a former French military base.

Vauban’s biomass plant, combined with solar, produces heat and power for the entire eco-district. (F. Breyer, Büro der Bürgermeisterin, Freiburg)

Solar panels are everywhere in Vauban, including on the rooftop of this café and commercial building.

(Next – Part 4: Freiburg Uni Sustainability)