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ND moves forward with green projects

Emma Driscoll | Monday, February 18, 2008

Notre Dame is giving its affinity for the color green a new meaning with plans for various sustainability and conservation efforts across campus.

The University recently established the Office of Sustainability and a $2 million green loan fund, and “is evaluating plans for numerous projects and initiatives” for these new developments, Amy Coughlin, project management director, said in an e-mail.

Paul Kempf, director of utilities for the University and part of the Energy and Environmental Issues committee, said some of these projects will focus on waste disposal, recycling, environmentally friendly landscaping and buildings and water and energy conservation.

He said about 25 buildings – or 40 percent of the gross square footage of campus – are currently being audited to identify potential conservation projects for the future, Kempf said. Some buildings being evaluated are the library tower, Flanner Hall, Notre Dame Stadium, the Snite Museum and the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

“Typically, these are older buildings that have constant volume air handling systems that could benefit from more efficient variable air volume handling systems. These buildings also have the potential for lighting upgrades and enhanced lighting controls,” he said.

Before variable air volume handling system technology was available, ventilation systems used to be based on maximum occupancy, Kempf said. For example, if a building was meant to hold 200 people, air controls would be adjusted to accommodate 200 people – whether or not 200 people are actually in the building at a given time.

Adjustments to lighting can be made by replacing fixtures, re-ballasting and re-lamping existing fixtures, or in some cases just by re-lamping an existing fixture, according to Kempf.

The Facilities Building is already being used as a prototype for energy efficiency initiatives, he said.

To conduct the audits, Kempf said the University is working with the building automation firm Havel, who is also partnering with General Electric and its distributor Greybar Electric.

Another way to make the buildings more energy efficient would be to transition from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

“Compact fluorescent light bulbs, for example, have almost one-fifth energy input as incandescent light bulbs,” Kempf said.

Students are taking their own steps to make lighting changes on campus. As part of the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies business plan competitions, seniors Erin Mulholland and Elijah Pearce developed a business model that is currently being used to find conservation potential on campus.

Their business model suggests the creation of a Web site called “Green Counts” that will have both a calculator to determine the energy savings for switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and the opportunity to purchase the bulbs directly from the site.

“Right now, you have a lot of sites that can calculate energy savings with these light bulbs, and other sites [where] you can buy them. We’re trying to link the two,” Mulholland said.

The business plan reaches out to non-profits, community centers and schools, offering discounted bulbs to these organizations, Mulholland said.

“Our impact is helping community groups, the environment and also the educational component,” Mulholland said.

The model also includes the establishment of Green Counts taskforces. Mulholland, along with several other students, is heading one of these task forces in Lewis Hall, where a test case is currently underway to determine “how much of a financial savings [Lewis] would have by switching to these bulbs,” she said.

Mulholland worked with other students to inventory all the light bulbs in Lewis, and is in the process of preparing a report for the dorm.

Mulholland and Pearce are in the semifinals of the competition, along with 14 other teams, and submitted a full business plan on Friday, she said. Six teams will move on to the final round in April.

Kempf said he is interested in seeing the report of the Lewis test case and in helping make lighting changes to other buildings on campus if the report shows that compact fluorescent lighting can make an impact in the dorm.

“Rather than make the hall take care of it, we’d find a way to take care of it for them,” Kempf said.

If Lewis does decide to use compact fluorescent lights, it may be a model of conservation for other buildings on campus.

“The test case in Lewis Hall provides an excellent means for illustrating how a change as simple as that of a light bulb can result in energy savings and contribute to our campus conservation efforts,” Coughlin said.

Inefficient lighting is not only a concern for Notre Dame, but has become a national issue as well. Congress’ Clean Energy Act of 2007 includes an item to “to prohibit the sale of certain inefficient light bulbs, and require the development of a plan for increasing the use of more efficient light bulbs by consumers and businesses.”

Compact fluorescent light bulbs can last up to 10,000 hours, while the average incandescent bulb lasts about 750 hours, according to Kempf. The extended lifespan of compact fluorescent light bulbs cuts down on how many times the bulbs must be replaced, and thus on labor costs for replacing bulbs.

“I think what’s exciting and interesting is that we’ll start to not look at things purely on a financial basis. … We now have the benefit of trying to factor in the benefits of other things: emission reductions, energy savings,” Kempf said.

Kempf said he expects these energy conservation projects to move forward more once the director of the Office of Sustainability is selected.

Trustees recently approved different positions for the Office of Sustainability, he said. The director “will build institutional learning capacities to support continuous improvement in building design and operations, landscaping, procurement, energy and water conservation, waste disposal and recycling and service provision,” according to the summary report prepared for the Alumni Association.

The report also explains that the purpose of the green loan fund is “to provide capital for environmental improvements in both campus buildings and operations, illustrating a long-term commitment to sustainability efforts.”

Kempf said any environmentally friendly projects can apply to receive money from the loan fund, and benefits and funds earned by those projects can be put back into the fund to make sure future initiatives can also be financed.