BU as a Sustainable Learning Lab

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43 Buswell

Written by Dennis Carlberg

With the broad set of operational issues being addressed, Boston University is well suited as a learning laboratory for sustainability. Over the course of the past year sustainability@BU and Facilities Management & Planning partnered with mechanical engineering associate professor, Michael Gevelber and two of his students to explore what it would take to get Earth House, a specialty residence on South Campus, to produce more energy than it consumes. The energy concept is called Net Zero or Energy Positive (E+); increasing a building’s energy efficiency to the point where on-site renewable energy can provide all the energy the building needs.

In the case of Earth House, the intent was also to create a living learning community supporting residents’ sustainable lifestyle and the opportunity to learn about one’s environmental impact first hand. Earth and Environment professor Nathan Phillips collaborated on the concept development, exploring ways to integrate learning outcomes into the living community. Through the Housing and Residence Life structure, Earth House residents have been able to express shared concern for the environment through creative programming.

The mission of the Earth House is to provide a living environment that conserves energy and water and minimizes waste, in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the residents. Residents will look to promote sustainable living and awareness throughout BU’s campus.

-Earth House Mission Statement

Supporting this mission and creating a more sustainable living learning community needs to be informed by in-depth, solutions driven energy analysis to achieve the core objective of carbon reductions.

Gevelber has been using the BU campus – and the City of Boston as a learning laboratory since 2008 through his courses in mechanical engineering and through collaborations with the City and the Sustainable Neighborhood Lab. The integration of Professor Gevelber’s research and teaching with the built environment on campus adds real value to both the education of our students and the sustainability of our campus.

Working with Professor Gevelber and his students has been a real force multiplier in campus-wide sustainability.

-Thomas Daley, Associate Vice President, Facilities & Planning

Getting to E+ would require a complete renovation of the brownstone building where the Earth House currently is located, so a similar row house in the same block, also built in 1896 was chosen for the study. FM&P’s Terry Hatfield (ENG’11), Financial Analyst for Energy and key contributor in the collaboration provided the utility data needed for the study. Syed Shirazi (ENG ’14) conducted occupant surveys and collected temperature data. The team then analyzed the energy and use profile of the building and its occupants. Jarvis Lee (M.ENG’14) conducted the energy analysis using three energy modeling platforms and then validated the results against the utility bills. The team then projected the energy performance for three progressively more efficient scenarios:

1) A building meeting the current energy code

2) A deep energy retrofit to PassiveHouse standards and using an air-source heat pump + solar photovoltaic array on the roof

3) The same PassiveHouse standards, but using geothermal heating and cooling + solar on and extended beyond the roof in the back

Getting to E+

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The team was able to show E+ could be achieved, but with significant financial investment. Through the analysis, several lessons were learned about the energy use in the brownstones leading to a list of relatively low cost Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) to be explored.
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These measures include installing occupancy sensors in public areas, installing efficient LED lighting in the public areas and in the rooms, installing smart power strips in the rooms, strategically locating thermostats, and installing weather sealing. These ECMs will be part of a pilot program being implemented in two brownstones during the winter and spring of 2015. With the help of Rebecca Kahn (M.ENG ’16), data will be collected and analysis completed by the end of the spring semester. If the pilot proves out the engineering, the ECMs could be applied to 74 of the brownstones on campus with the potential to reduce overall brownstone energy consumption ten to fifteen times more than the E+ project, at a fraction of the cost.

The graphs below show the University’s portfolio of brownstone buildings, each representing a colored rectangle. On the left, the small white space shows the impact of converting Earth House to E+. In contrast, the graph on the right shows a much large slice can be carved out of the overall brownstone energy use just by implementing the recommended Energy Conservation Measures.

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Mark Holaday (SAR ‘16) the Earth House Resident Assistant, South Campus Residence Life staff, FM&P area managers as well as South Campus residents have all provided critical support for the project. With their help, Professor Gevelber has been able to utilize the Charles River Campus as a learning laboratory, educating and informing University operations and providing valuable real-world skills for his students.

See the original article at Boston University Sustainability