Students develop tactics to make SAU ‘greener’

Energy efficiency ideas for national design challenge are incorporated into daily operations

A. Sue Weisler

A team of electrical/mechanical engineering technology students is looking to make the SAU more energy efficient for a national student design competition.

Inspired by Rochester Institute of Technology’s focus on green technologies, some of its undergraduate electrical/mechanical engineering technology students are looking to make the university’s Student Alumni Union a greener place.

Their work is part of the Green Energy Challenge, a national student design competition sponsored by the National Electrical Contracting Association. Student chapters of the organization participate annually on a design project to do energy audits of power and lighting systems as well as detail how alternative energy systems can be incorporated into facilities.

RIT’s students submitted their plan for the campus’ Student Alumni Union to the association but also found that the work relates directly to campus initiatives to improve its carbon footprint.

Working closely with the university’s Facilities Management Services team, the students assessed current energy consumption in the different dining facilities and academic department offices to recommend ways to increase energy efficiencies in the widely used facility. In the past several years, FMS has transitioned many campus facilities to LED lighting and continually monitors environmental temperatures and energy usage in academic and residential buildings.

The student team wanted to take this further and worked with two FMS engineers, Dave Harris and Ryan Crittenden, to focus on the benefits of higher efficiency lights and lighting arrays as well as the installation of more motion-activated lighting sensors, and new arrays of photovoltaic panels on the roof and wind turbines outside the SAU.

“Some of the issues discovered with our preliminary analysis of the SAU were mainly found on the energy consumption uses,” said Shaun Henry, a fourth-year electrical/mechanical engineering technology student in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology. He is one of four students from the program on the project’s design team. “Despite the relatively large areas of glass to allow in natural lighting, a lot of light fixtures are kept on all day. Some cafe lights were also found on when the facility was not in use over the weekends. And glass panels currently in use may be the source of heat loss raising the need for additional heating during colder months.”

One of the products of the work being performed by the students will be a list of Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs), said Harris, director of FMS’ Training, Utilities, and Environmental Management. FMS will review the measures in terms of energy to be saved, reduced maintenance costs, first costs required to implement the measures and return on investment.

“The students wanted to know about the amounts of energy, both electrical and natural gas, the facility uses on an annual basis,” he added. “The building’s occupants have many different requirements on how space is configured and used. Identifying those different uses and their impact on energy is one of the many challenges the students faced when looking at the buildings energy profile.”

The team has since proposed to retrofit the remaining fluorescent lighting fixtures to LED technologies, as well as install additional occupancy and photo sensors throughout the building to reduce energy usage. They have begun formulating ideas to add photovoltaic panels and interactive energy monitoring stations to the area.

Working with the FMS engineers, the students gained insights into some of the technologies and software implemented in the recently completed Golisano Institute for Sustainability on the RIT campus. Some of these same technologies have the potential to significantly reduce wasted energy through customized programming for the SAU project—things as simple as area-specific sensors to provide adequate lighting for any time of day. The technology is available; it only needs those willing to make changes for the better, Henry said.

“This project is important because it gives us as students a chance to apply concepts we have been studying to an everyday necessity—lighting and energy use,” he adds. “We hope to provide the groundwork for a greener, more energy efficient campus, and hope to carry over our ideas when we finish here at RIT and go out into the world.”

The RIT team of Shaun Henry, Daniel Appiah Mensah, Charles Riggio and Joseph Repass, along with faculty advisor David Krispinsky, associate professor in the electrical, computer and telecommunications engineering technology program, will learn of results in July. If they are part of the group of finalists will present their findings at the NECA convention in Chicago in September.

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