Wednesday April 19, 2017

Working to Better My Piece of the World

By Naomi Schalle

Hey there, everyone! My name is Naomi, and I am a third year mechanical engineering student with a SEE minor. Since I started at UD, I determined that my passion and my future definitely lie in sustainability. At first I felt I couldn’t really do much until I graduated with my degree and went out into the “real world.”  However, I didn’t want to let that passion fade and I realized there was an impact I could be having even as an undergrad, by working with HSI on campus. So, last semester I joined the Hanley Sustainability Institute team as a Sustainability Student Leader. Eager to hit the ground running, my first project was to work on assessment and tracking of sustainability initiatives on campus through the STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) online reporting tool. 

As mentioned in the previous blog post from Kaleigh, one of my fellow Sustainability Student Leaders, the STARS tool allows universities and colleges to self-report their sustainability efforts in order to display their performance and rank themselves against other schools. Kaleigh and I were both tasked with working on this project, and while Kaleigh has been studying the transportation data of the university, I started my work with more of the operational data. With the help of a few of my coworkers at HSI, I entered data from previous university assessments that included emissions, energy usage, building square footage, and student and faculty population numbers to determine important trends in the university’s carbon emissions and energy usage, as well as giving us a closer look into UD’s carbon footprint. These efforts made the university’s sustainability strengths - as well as some shortcomings - more transparent, allowing us to identify even more ways that UD could move forward to become more sustainable.

A lot of my work for STARS actually fell pretty close in line with work I did at my co-op, where I helped conduct energy audits and develop energy efficiency projects. This prior experience greatly helped me with my work on STARS, as well as my current project: running an occupancy sensor audit in Fitz Hall.  Once the STARS submission was completed for this year, I shifted my focus to this occupancy sensor project. This new project does not directly tie into STARS, like Kaleigh’s transportation data, but my work here will help in boosting our STARS rating through energy usage reductions and efficiency increases.

Occupancy sensors are used in a lot of the university’s buildings to cut energy usage and save money. If you’re not familiar with them, occupancy sensors can be installed alongside lighting fixtures on the ceilings of classrooms, offices, bathrooms, hallways - anywhere where lights are installed. The sensors are wired to a certain zone of lights, and have a motion detector in them. When the sensor detects motion (therefore implying that the room/space is occupied), the lights turn on. If no motion is detected for a long enough period of time, the lights will turn off.  When zoned and timed correctly, these sensors can bring immense monetary and energy savings.

So my project now is to work with Facilities Management to run an audit of the occupancy sensors in Fitz Hall, starting with the 6th floor, using light/occupancy loggers to collect and record data.  We would like to determine if the occupancy sensors are working correctly, if they are staying on for the right period of time, and if there are possible cost-saving measures to be implemented in how the occupancy sensors are currently configured. Once an initial smaller-scale audit is completed, we hope to expand out and run audits of the rest of Fitz Hall and possibly other buildings on campus. As this project progresses, we will also be tying the existing lighting and occupancy fixtures to a GIS (geographic information system) map of the space we are auditing. This will allow for easier and quicker implementation of even more lighting improvement and energy reduction initiatives in the future, all leading to a greener campus and a more sustainable UD!

We also really want to bring more students in to this project. As there are many buildings on campus, a small team of students who are eager to learn the basics of GIS mapping and experience first-hand some of the ins and outs of lighting audits would be beneficial to making our university stand out in the sustainability arena, as well as giving more students the opportunity to be directly involved with sustainability efforts on campus.

That being said, making UD greener is not a task for one person or one team of people doing STARS reporting or lighting and sensors audits. I was able to find a pretty visible way to work to make UD more sustainable, but my job at HSI is by no means the only way to help our university on its path to become a greener university. Each and every one of us is responsible for the future of our earth, and small actions and efforts really do add up in the end. Everyday actions from each person in our UD community can make a true difference in our energy usage, carbon emissions, and campus-wide commitment to sustainability. We may not be able to change the whole world right now, but we can always work to change the small part around us.

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