Robbie Choate helps University save CO2

Robbie Choate stands on the roof of the Metcalf Science Center

Robbie Choate stands on the roof of the Metcalf Science Center

The rooftop of 590 Comm Ave may seem an unusual place for an Economics major to hang around, but that’s where Robbie Choate was often found last semester. As an intern with BU Facilities Management and Planning, his energy setback project resulted in saving the University CO2.

Choate’s interest in the Metcalf Science Center began while taking Professor Michael Gevelber’s energy analysis course (Spring 2009 GE520/ME500), which focused on auditing energy use on BU’s campus. As part of the class Choate was able to meet with both Charlie Bean, the commissioning agent and a senior engineer with Environmental Health & Engineering, and a Ray Thompson a sales representative from Schneider Electric, the programming and building automation contracting company.  The meeting ended with a tour of the massive rooftop air-handling unit that had been installed in the summer of 2009.

“This rooftop unit – which everyone refers to as the ‘MegaUnit’ – is truly impressive,” said Choate.” Four 100hp supply fans, two 550 ton chillers, and enough pumps, pipes, and gauges, to make any guy like me get excited.”

The semester with Professor Gevelber culminated with a report detailing conservation strategies for the Metcalf Science Center and a framework for estimating savings from such measures. This, Choate said, segued into an internship with the Construction Services group in Facilities Management & Planning, where he assisted project managers and facilitated utility rebate programs.

Robbie Choate inside Metcalf

After building credibility within the department, Choate reconnected with Professor Gevelber and approached Construction Services Executive Director, Colleen McGinty about the energy conservation possibilities at the Metcalf Science Center.

“Bean had noted the lack of a setback program in their commissioning report,” said Choate. “We explained how the MegaUnit was a prefect candidate for a setback program, where airflow rates and temperature set-points could be scaled back during unoccupied times.”

McGinty was interested in the report and afforded Choate the time and resources to pursue the setback project. Working with McGinty, Bean, and Thompson, Choate developed a project scope and strategy. The building’s recently renovated mechanical systems made the implementation simple and cost-affective as thermostats in spaces served by the MegaUnit were already pre-wired with a setback override button. The project, Choate said, was essentially engineering & programming.

The first meeting took place before winter break, and the setback program was implemented midway through February. For the months following, Choate used both trend data from the building automation system and hourly meter data from the electric utility company to monitor savings.

“In one short year, Robbie taught me more about HVAC systems and energy savings than I had learned in twenty,” said McGinty. “He showed me what it was like to be young and passionate about the job.”

McGinty also raved about Professor Gevelber’s proven track record.

“His students are brilliant and passionate, and I welcome further collaborations,” said McGinty.  “We all need to think beyond what has become the norm. It’s our responsibility to our students and society to question and respond.”

One of the joys of the class, said Gevelber, is seeing how students learn that they can be change agents; that they can become the experts just by asking the right questions even when the so called experts say it can’t be done.

Other projects that have resulted from Gevelber’s classes include delamping of 24 Cummington St. (Life Science and Engineering Building) 15 St. Mary’s St, 590 Commonwealth Avenue (Choate’s project) and an energy audit pilot, which will begin at Sargent College this fall.

We’ve looked at a number of specific buildings and their issues such as dinning facilities, fans, heat recovery as well as well as the education it provides for the facilities folks,” said Gevelber. “ It’s really a joint learning effort.”

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