UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn

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Hidden Energy Savings: Retrocommissioning and Relamping

The University of Connecticut is in the midst of an extensive retrocommissioning and relamping project as part of the energy efficiency priority of UConn’s Climate Action Plan.

Retrocommissioning (RCx) is the process by which the systems and equipment of existing buildings are tested and modified so that the building is running optimally and efficiently. UConn has broken up its retrocommissioning projects into three phases over four years starting in 2011. As of Summer 2013, the university had completed retrocommissioning projects for 19 buildings. These projects, along with other UConn energy efficiency measures, should save over 20,500,000 kWh of energy over the course of a year. The largest savings are coming from the Homer Babbidge Library, the Pharmacy Building, and the Student Union.

andy figure

Figure 1: Data from projected annual energy savings in LOAs for Buildings in Phase 1 and 2


Of course, energy isn’t free, so in addition to saving energy, retrocommissioning should save the university about 2 million dollars a year.  Phase 3 of the retrocommissioning projects is set to begin in Fall 2013 and continue through 2014. Some of the buildings that will be included in Phase 3 are the South Campus Dorms, the Music Building, the Dodd Center, Von der Mehden Recital Hall, and the School of Fine Arts.

Relamping is another ongoing energy efficiency project at the University of Connecticut. Relamping works to upgrade the lighting systems of a building by replacing inefficient bulbs with more efficient varieties. These upgrades will increase energy efficiency, decrease overall energy use, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions moving UConn forward with its sustainability goals. As of the end of the summer, 80 relamping projects had been completed at UConn. As a result of this effort the university is projected to save 4,065,870 Kwh of energy and $398,013.06 per year. It is incredible that a seemingly small change, like light bulbs, can amount to such large savings.

Both retrocommissioning and relamping are excellent examples of UConn’s proactive and effective push for sustainability. Although most people don’t see the changes from retrocommissioning and relamping, they are one of our most effective energy-saving tools! The average reduction in energy from a retrocommissioning project is 16 percent and the implementation of new lighting systems can reduce lighting energy demand (29% of a buildings total energy demand) by 59%. UConn recognizes the value of both relamping and retrocommissioning and has made them priorities in the Climate Action Plan.


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UConn Sustainable Programs: Water Reclamation Facility

For today’s focus on sustainable programs at UConn, we look at the new Water Reclamation Facility on campus.  Here’s a great write up of how the water reclamation facility works, as well as a repost of Corinne’s visit to the Water Reclamation Facility.

You may not know this, but if you see a purple pipe, it indicates that the water inside is recycled or reclaimed water!  Reclaiming water is a great way to promote conservation, and also to reduce the overuse of potable (drinkable) water.  Water gets used for all sorts of things at UConn – irrigation, flushing toilets, industrial uses, cooling, heating, and (most importantly in this hot weather) air conditioning!  None of those uses actually require potable water – just water.  At UConn, we actually have a Central Utility Plant (the CUP) which provides cogeneration, heating, cooling, fire protection and emergency electrical backup power to the campus.  Today we had an event to celebrate the opening of UConn’s Reclaimed Water Facility, which in the summer, provides water primarily for cooling to the CUP.  Today, all of the water necessary for cooling has been provided to the CUP, and all of the energy needed on campus so far today has been provided by the CUP!

A picture from my tour of the UConn Reclaimed Water facility today

A picture from my tour of the UConn Reclaimed Water facility today

In order to recycle water, storm water and waste water are collected, filtered and cleaned, and then piped to the CUP.  Right now, water for cooling is the primary use for reclaimed water at UConn, but there is the possibility for duel piping in new buildings to use reclaimed water for toilets, and permits are currently under review to allow us to use reclaimed water for irrigation.  In the winter, the reclaimed water will continue to be used for the lower cooling needs of the university, as well as to provide water for the boilers to produce steam to heat the university.  After the water is used at the CUP, it then flows back to the reclaimed water facility to be filtered, cleaned, and used again.

Reclaiming water is an important step towards environmental sustainability, even in a relatively water-rich region.  Reusing waste water (or grey water), or reclaiming water is critical for basic health and survival in many water-poor regions of the world where there is not enough potable water to use it for sanitation, irrigation, or industrial uses, as well as for drinking water.  In the developing world – where 800 million people lack access to clean water and 2.5 billion people lack access to proper sanitation – infrastructure can be designed and built to support reclaimed water, rather than adding it after the fact.

As part of UConn’s commitment to sustainability and to human rights, I hope that the reach of our reclaimed water facility goes beyond just reducing our water use, but helps provide an example of responsible and sustainable water use for others across the globe.

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Energy Dashboards as a Sustainability Tool

There are several ways to measure energy efficiency. Observing trends in the consumption of domestic and chilled water, electricity, steam and greenhouse gas emissions are among the various approaches. Imagine having the technology on campus that would allow anyone to access the energy statistics for a particular building on campus at any time of the day. Anyone would be able to see how many gallons of water were consumed within the past hour, the past day or even the past week. Or, you could find the kilowatt hours of electricity used earlier in the week, and then compare the data figure to the day prior. The University has installed a new form of green technology into Oak and Laurel Halls that will bring this idea to life. The new technology is called an energy dashboard. It is an interactive kiosk that allows anyone to interact with various widgets on the touch-screen display. By touching any of the widgets, students, staff and faculty will be able to explore real-time energy usage statistics, as well as information about the building’s sustainable features and a green campus tour.

Energy Dashboard Display in Laurel Hall

Energy Dashboard Display in Laurel Hall

Alone, the energy dashboards do not save energy. The system displays energy statistics that are in turn left to be interpreted and acted upon by the campus community. For instance, if Oak Hall were to experience a significant spike in water usage from one day to another, it would be the responsibility of the students and staff to be mindful of the amount of water they consume. Therefore, the University hopes to ultimately instill behavioral change. A crucial part of this process is education. The energy dashboards can be incorporated into the classroom environment as professors include them in their curriculum. They can be used as a classroom tool for a variety of courses ranging from Environmental Science, Ecology Agricultural and Resource Economics and Conservation Biology to Civil and Environmental Engineering and Natural Resources. By drawing from actual, real-time data, professors can supplement their lesson plans by having their students analyze certain energy statistics and create their own solutions. For example, if a building experienced an increase in electricity usage, students would be tasked with deducing a probable solution.

At UC Berkeley, the myPower program was launched as a comprehensive program to reduce the amount of energy the campus consumes.  It is also a means to empower the entire campus community to take smart, simple energy saving measures that will shrink environmental footprint and save money. In return, the money saved is sent back as funds for teaching and research purposes. The myPower program also marked the beginning of an online energy dashboard that allows anyone to see how much electricity is being consumed in a particular building at that very moment. The energy dashboard extends to fifty-seven buildings and is a part of the university’s new initiative to reduce energy use. UC Berkeley, like UConn, aims to instill behavioral change in the campus community by launching the myPower program. In turn, case studies and energy surveys have been initiated to highlight how the energy dashboards complement existing sustainable initiatives. UC Berkeley, since the implementation of the myPower program, has experienced high annual savings, enhanced research opportunities and a considerable educational value.

Energy dashboards not only serve as an extraordinary educational tool, but they raise awareness about our environmental impact. By making real-time energy statistics available to the community, both students and staff will be able to apply conservation tips to their own lives and ultimately make a difference in reducing the size of the University’s carbon footprint.

– Meredith


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:


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.