Interns create energy savings initiatives on and off campus
The universal symbol for a smart idea used to be a light bulb burning bright. But a group of student and graduate interns who are working on reducing energy consumption and carbon footprint – on and off campus – might say otherwise.
Last September 2011, the university started hosting internships on and off campus through the Student Environmental Center that are geared toward reducing North Carolina's energy consumption and carbon footprint. The State Energy Internship Program is funded by a $281,000 grant from the N.C. State Energy Office – funds that come from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The State Energy Office has set a goal that by 2015, on average, UNC schools and state institutions must decrease their energy consumption by 30 percent.
Eleven of these internships focus on the UNC Asheville campus in three project areas – finding room for improvements in energy efficiency, revising the university's energy policy, and creating campaigns to make students, faculty and staff active participants in energy savings. Other interns in the program work with community organizations to reduce energy consumption and train others for green-sector jobs.
"We have a long tradition of doing work in energy reduction on this campus. UNC Asheville is the most efficient in the UNC system in terms of BTUs used per square foot," says Ed Katz, associate provost and dean of University Programs. "We've gained that distinction by indentifying and pursuing small efficiencies -- and by decisions we've made during renovations and construction – that the momentum and savings built up over time and have become significant."
The interns, many of whom are recent UNC Asheville graduates, hunt down more of those small efficiencies around the campus and work with students and Facilities Management to make improvements. One example is the Push My Buttons campaign. Residential students and faculty can sign up to have the thermostats in their rooms/offices/classes programmed to switch over to energy-savings mode – cooler in the winter and warmer during the summer – then go back to normal temperature settings with the push of a single button.
Other improvements have been found in lighting. "You only need about 10 foot-candles of light for a hallway, but there are some hallways on campus that have 80 foot-candles," says Joan Walker, Energy Fellow for the program. "You could perform open-heart surgery in these hallways, and you don't need that much light."
According Walker, Facilities Management started the process of de-lamping some of the areas of campus where electricity is being used unnecessarily. De-lamping starts with removing light bulbs where they are not necessary. If the areas in question are still adequately lit, the fixtures get removed altogether.
Walker, who oversees the internships with Student Environmental Center Director Brandee Boggs, says that de-lamping alone has already netted the university an estimated annual savings of more than $3,200 per year. "In total, the State Energy Internship Program (including energy savings at Buncombe County Schools) has saved 359,916.8 kilowatt hours, equivalent to $36,234.35 in annual savings – or about the average energy use of 59 houses," says Walker.
Off campus, Seth McLamb, a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and resident of Hayesville, N.C., is serving his internship with Buncombe County Schools. His work has taken him to meet with administrators, teachers, and staff who are keen on seeing the savings he can provide to each of their schools in a time of budget cutbacks. Small efficiencies that he finds and fixes in one school can be replicated across the county's 43 separate campuses.
Other off-campus internships in the program include graduates working at Green Opportunities, a non-profit organization that trains at-risk youth to install home energy upgrades, with the goal of placing them in jobs where they can use these skills. Green Opportunities teams provide these services to houses of low-income families in the Asheville area.
Another intern works with the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute, collaborating with local utilities and banks to devise ways of making energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades affordable to middle-income families.
"The interships' goal overall is to achieve energy reduction and lower carbon footprints," says Katz, "at the same time, providing the opportunity for North Carolina graduates to develop skills and experience in the sustainability sector, so that they can in turn later go out and get jobs in this field."
Intern Courtney Galatioto, for instance, wants to pursue further education and a career in policy formation. She served as SGA president at UNC Asheville, and now her internship focuses on helping UNC Asheville update its energy policy, which she says hasn't been revised since 1999.
"We need to create a framework so that – as a campus – all these initiatives stay in place," she says. "That [old] policy has allowed us to do some great work, but we've exceeded it with the campus's sustainability initiatives over the years. Right now, we're the most energy efficient school in UNC system, but we're also growing. That's why we need intentionality now; we've done all these great things already, but as we get bigger and bigger in the future, we need to balance out that growth with other efforts."
Though this internship program will end later this semester, its participants are making sure that their work has a lasting effect on UNC Asheville community and their careers.
How you can help save energy around campus:
When it comes to saving energy, small actions really do add up! Lighting and electronics alone account for almost 30% of energy used in buildings. All members of our campus community are invited to take UNCA’s Conservation Commitment, a pledge to save energy on campus by turning off lights when leaving a space (classrooms, offices, bathrooms, etc.), power down electronics when not in use, and keep windows closed to conserve building heat and air conditioning. Everyone who commits will be publically recognized in Highsmith Student Union during the month of January, so make sure to stop by and find your name on the Conservation Commitment wall! Take the pledge at http://sec.unca.edu/energy-conservation-commitment.
Help UNC Asheville save energy by observing Earth Hours, hosted by the Student Environmental Center and Student Government Association. On the first Monday of every month, turn off lights and electronics from 10-11am. Check out the informational flyer here http://sec.unca.edu/earth-hour-2011-2012.
Clean and Green Laundry
Residence Hall laundry rooms have undergone some changes to encourage students to wash their laundry in more environmentally friendly ways! This semester, drying racks will also be installed in Mills and Founders Hall. Learn more at http://sec.unca.edu/projects/clean-green-laundry.