Western Sustainability Newsletter: Volume 1.3
An Interview with Western Engineer Chris Hadley
For anyone who is wondering just exactly who are the people that help Western move forward as a sustainable institution, you could not start at a better place than by meeting Facilities Management Engineer Chris Hadley. Tucked into a spacious corner of the AIC, Hadley is surrounded by luminous computer monitors, suitcases of equipment for temperature and velocity measurements, and scrolls of numerical data. For a man who is comfortably ensconced between ductwork and ventilation pipes, it was surprising for me to learn that Hadley started his journey toward energy conservation by earning a BA in English from the UW. "I have always been interested in reading and acquiring new knowledge," Hadley said, and he seemed to regard the arts as a logical place to begin.
Hadley's introduction to sustainability proper came shortly after graduating with his BA when he accepted a position as General Manager at a large recycling operation in Seattle. "I still like to recycle" Hadley says, "but I figure I got a lifetime credit under my belt from that job." At first he was not really interested in a career that focused on environmental conservation; he was more interested in earning enough money to move to California. "I was looking for a dirty job that would earn a lot of cash quickly," Hadley said, "and I found an opening at a recycling plant in Seattle." Hadley interviewed for the position and 6 weeks later got a call from the owner offering him the spot. "It was exactly the kind of temporary work I was looking for," Hadley said, "but what happened was I fell in love with the job."
But it wasn't the recycling aspect that really motivated him; it was the mechanics of the operation. "I can fix almost anything" Hadley said, speaking of his lifelong affinity for problem solving, "and I loved the constant demand and challenge the recycling plant provided. I had no idea how much stuff was broken in that place."
Eventually his interest in mechanical systems led Hadley away from the recycling industry and back into the college classroom. In 1998 he enrolled at Bellingham Technical College and graduated in 2000 with an Associates degree in Applied Science, focusing on heating and cooling systems. "I was sitting in class on the first day and the instructor introduced the topic of sub-cooled liquids and superheated vapors" Hadley said, "and I knew right then, that was it, I had found my passion." While speaking Hadley rolled up his sleeve and revsealed an arm freckled with goose bumps. "Twelve years later I still get chills just talking about it" he said, eyes wide with excitement. "I absolutely love this stuff."
Among some of the many practical theorems Hadley absorbed during his BTC degree, the idea of energy conservation struck home. "As I studied the processes involved with heating and cooling systems I began to realize how much energy we have the potential not to waste." After working in various technical trades in Whatcom County between 2000 and 2006, Hadley brought his keen mind and fervent passion for climate systems to Western. "I work in a very fast changing, dynamic field whose challenges and fascinations never cease" Hadley says. "Far and few between are the days that I don't look forward to showing up to work and giving it my best."
As we talked Hadley frequently rolled his chair to one of three computers in his basement office, opening programs and schematics to demonstrate where and how energy conservation was taking place within the university's walls, ceilings, and rooftops. Phrases like "shaft pressurization control strategy," "polynomial functions," and "terminal boxes" danced in my ears while spreadsheets filled with numbers to the ten-thousandth decimal place scrolled past my eyes. I didn't understand most of it, but I could get my mind around the savings figures. "Optimizing our systems and implementing simple concepts will save the university millions of dollars," Hadley said. "Good systems serve the campus better, they serve the buildings better, they save energy, and they are easier to maintain." Hadley went on to describe how the money saved by energy conservation measures usually pay for the project in a short period of time; after that, it's just gravy. "I'm passionate about what I do and the impact it can make" Hadley continued, "the challenge is to break through the patterns and practices of the past."
Part of this challenge can be addressed at the university level. When asked how Western might work more efficiently in the field of sustainability, Hadley was frank, "We will need to continue invest in the technologies that can provide optimizing strategies" he said. "We will also need to invest in the high level of education and skills required by the technicians who work on them, which are now in short supply, and anticipate this area as one of job growth rather than reduction, even in the face of budget cuts." From Hadley's perspective, these high skill technical jobs have the potential to be self-sustaining far into the future.
We closed our conversation with a short discussion about personal sustainability practices, though for Hadley, I think it is hard to distinguish between personal and professional pursuits. He doesn't seem to think in the terms we commonly wrangle from sustainability dialogue, malleable terms like "compact community" and "social responsibility." He genuinely lives them out. "I'm not really a big consumer" Hadley mused, "I bike to work when I can and I eat my vegetables." But what inspires him isn't really the small stuff. Hadley thrives on the big picture. He is a visionary. "I need systems to optimize," he continued, simultaneously referring to his work and his biological composition. "I like urban life." And I would go further to say that urban life fascinates Hadley with its diversity of opportunity for optimized, smart, and conservative systems that serve the long-term good of human and ecological health. Individuals of Hadley's caliber are moving Western toward that future.
A Western Grad's Vision for Sustainable Agriculture
Nick Spring is a recent graduate from Western's Fairhaven College and former Coordinator for the AS Outback gardens. Like many young college alums, Spring is simultaneously looking for ways to make ends meet while pursuing a degree-focused job. But unlike most of us, he isn't wondering how his life will make a difference. Along with colleague Chris Elder, Spring is the Director and co-founder of the Bellingham Urban Garden Syndicate, referred to by the acronym, BUGS. "The term syndicate comes from the late 1920s and early 30s" Spring explained, "it was a time when working class people began uniting for a common purpose of good." The vision for BUGS is to participate in a cooperative enterprise that makes urban farming a reality for regular people.
Spring came to Western in 2007 with an academic interest in environmental studies and a tendency toward positive activism—more in the sense of taking a hands-on role in crafting social change than picketing at a capitol building. At the time he was invested in the environment but not specifically in sustainable food. "I've always been kind of an admirer of nature" Spring said, "I like spending time outdoors and taking time to appreciate the world." Through some early influences at Western, Spring began to hone his broad environmental interests into the plowshare of food production. "I began to see a need to change the way people relate to the world on a daily basis," Spring said. And what we all do every day, is eat. It wasn't so much an educational process as an overwhelming epiphany. "When I came to Fairhaven I had a Realization" Spring said, "and that summer I went and got a job on a farm."
Spring went on complete a self-design major, one that focused on sustainability and local foods, titled "Developing Sustainable Connections through Environmental Stewardship and Local Foods Advocacy." Even though Nick was speaking slowly, it took me two tries to write his title down correctly. But there's no fluff in this degree. The title aptly summarizes his professional occupation, life motto, and his ongoing relationship with the university, one that includes guest lectures and workshops at the Outback on topics such as Pruning, Grafting, and Forest Gardening. In addition to his tasks as Director at BUGS and university lecturer, Spring is also the Manager of a Whatcom County vineyard and a farmer with Broad Leaf Farm in Everson.
But the sustainable foods concept is something much bigger than a professional occupation. Although Spring might see his particular life as a sort of calling he would not depict his role in farming as exclusive. It is something everyone can and should be doing. "In my mind urban farming is the nexus between urban planning and sustainable agriculture," Spring said. Unfortunately, that requires urban people to get dirty. "You can grow gardens but if no one takes care of them or eats the food, there's no point," Spring said, emphasizing the need for more people to become involved. "We all have agricultural roots. We need to rekindle that connection."
When I asked if he saw potential at Western to cultivate an interest in sustainable food, Spring showed lots of optimism. "I'd love to continue working with Western," he said. Through workshops, yes, "but also in the larger sense of helping establish a sustainable foods system." How might that happen? Well, perhaps a basic GUR in food production would be a good place to start. "Food is integral," Spring continued, "and most people don't know where it comes from or how the process works."
Right now BUGS donates most of their produce to the Bellingham Food Bank or to their farming volunteers. In the long term, Spring hopes to grow enough food to sell, and he encourages workshop-students and community volunteers to do the same. "So far we've found the best way to keep people happy and involved is to feed them," Spring joked, but it was obvious the greater challenge is to get people to feed themselves. "Right now we're pushing for a few permanent staff positions at the Outback, individuals who could develop a long-term vision for curriculum and community based learning."
In the meantime, he's thinking about the longevity of his new venture in urban gardening. Good work, innovative ideas, and social integrity don't always produce the necessary lettuce. "One goal for this year is to pay our bills," Spring smiled. "As with any non-profit, we still have to meet the bottom line." Nevertheless he is undeterred and untiring, even completing this interview while loading his truck with equipment for the afternoon's farming. "I think that working in the dirt and plants is a great way of grounding yourself," Spring said. "I find it meditative and," he laughingly added, "I eat pretty well." Perhaps others will begin to see it the same way.
The Wind Tunnel Project in Haskell Plaza
Western is currently investing in a "Lab Exhaust Fan Analysis using dispersion modeling to find optimum fan configurations to meet air quality design criteria," says a pamphlet distributed by Cermak, Peterka, and Petersen, professional wind engineering consultants. And for that, we can all breathe easier. Also known as a Wind Tunnel Project the study involves a complex analysis on the exhaust fans in the Chemistry Building, weather patterns outside, and the air quality in neighboring buildings. Why? Well, it works like this:
When students perform experiments in their Chemistry labs, mushroom clouds from their chemical reactions are sucked out of the room via the fume hood. Presto. For me, that was the end of the story. I haven't worked in a chemistry lab since high school and I cared very little then or now about the end fate of odors derived from sulfuric acid. But, as with so many perspectives altered by sustainability research, it turns out that a substance continues to exist after I've no longer any use for it, including a waft of rotten eggs. The challenge is how to dispose of the excess properly, and that's where optimum fan control configurations, air quality design criteria, and energy savings come into the picture.
At Western all the gases generated inside chemistry labs are jettisoned through the roof of the Chemistry Building, lofted by propulsion from four massive exhaust fans. In an urban setting—or a dense development center like a college campus—all those chemical particles are at risk of being drawn back into an adjacent building's fresh air intake. The exhaust fan system exists to push all the fumes high enough into the air that they can disperse and neutralize without adversely affecting the local environment, and carrying fumes to an appropriate height depends on the relationship between exterior weather conditions, the momentum of the exhaust airstream, air temperatures, and so on.
The present operation of the fume exhaust systems has remained largely unchanged since the buildings were first constructed, providing Western's with a fan system that has two speeds, "On" and "Off." When it's "On" the fan runs at 100 percent, potentially lofting exhaust many tens of feet higher than necessary to avoid the neighboring buildings air intake. When it's "Off," well, nothing happens. Effective, but inefficient. "Wind engineering is best defined as the rational treatment of interactions between wind, the atmospheric boundary layer, man, and his works on the surface of Earth" says Dr. Jack Cermak, co-founder of CPP. With his help, Western is beginning to understand more about the interaction between the boundary layers above south campus, the students below, and how to mitigate their relationship.
Step one will be to map weather patterns around Haskell Plaza and find out how topography, temperature, and surface structures affect airflow patterns, data that can be used for future efficiency projects as well. Step two will be installing technology that can adjust exhaust fan speeds in response to variables in outdoor conditions, meaning, "On" doesn't have to be 100 percent to be effective. "It's super exciting when we can upgrade technology in a building without affecting the current structure and still improve campus and environmental health" said Carol Berry, Western's manager for the 10x12 Program. "The option to retrofit is going to save the university money in installation costs, in addition to savings from lower electricity and natural gas consumption. And we can do this without compromising anyone's physical comfort or personal safety."
Using the new technology, Western can take questions and concerns from building occupants and address them with fine adjustments to automated systems, things that would have been impossible just a few years ago. "We are now at a point in history where a convergence of technologies has the enabling potential to cost-effectively create demand responsive systems at a level not previously achievable" said Western engineer Chris Hadley. "These smart systems will get better. Much, much better. To understand the technology and improve upon it we need to continue investing in systems that provide optimizing strategies. At some point this kind of technology will be entirely self-governing, but that is in the distant future."
As it stands, the Wind Tunnel Project is anticipated to be a significant electrical energy saver, generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions and conserving fossil fuel. The ability to operate the exhaust fan at lower speeds also means less interior air will be vented into the atmosphere, which means Western will have less new air to heat before recirculating it in the building. Reduced demand on the air conditioning is expected to noticeably reduce natural gas consumption—the fuel that converts cold air to warm—a process that may save several thousand dollars annually in utilities, perhaps more.
"The great thing about energy saving projects is they keep saving money" Hadley commented. "We talk about payback for these projects but that is generally only compared to the installation cost. If the equipment and processes remain relatively stable the projects never stop paying back." Just how much money is still a rough estimate but cost analyses, paybacks, and potential long-term savings are extremely positive. "We anticipate saving a huge amount of electricity once the upgraded controls are installed," Hadley said. "Vast!"
As we look toward a future with self-governing systems, or simply smarter ways to combine resources with human ingenuity, the broad goal remains to push Western closer to becoming a climate neutral institution and completing the Climate Action Plan. "It can be hard to incorporate smart technologies into buildings," Hadley concluded, "and this presents something of a voyage of discovery in the process. But it can certainly keep the buildings from working as hard as they do, and that it what we are striving to achieve ."
What is the 2-Degree Turn-Down?
WWU has saved $32,000 and counting in Natural Gas costs during winter 2011-2012
A multi-strategy energy reduction program, referred to as the 2-Degree Turn Down, is underway at Western. So far the program has saved Western $32,000 this winter with more savings projected in the months ahead.
The 2-Degree turn Down program includes reducing hours that buildings are heated at night and on weekends by setting building thermostats to 68F wherever possible, and circulating "Power Down" reminders to staff, faculty and students via messages sent to departmental contacts in campus offices.
Through the partnership between students, faculty, staff and Western Administration, Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability have achieved a 15% reduction in natural gas consumption this year, compared to the same four-month period in 2010-2011.
Adjusting daytime heating set points to 68F and lengthening the late-night heating setback period began November, 2011. The estimated benefits included a reduction in natural gas and electricity costs in the neighborhood of $42,000 annually. The actual accumulated savings from November, December, January and February total $32,000 with more savings likely in March, April, and May.
Cost savings for the last four months are calculated by comparing total "heating days" rather than total volume of natural gas consumption. Savings calculations include the total number of cold days, along with the actual outdoor temperatures, to estimate how much natural gas will be required to reach an appropriate indoor temperature.
Savings figures also account for fluctuations in natural gas prices. This winter natural gas prices have been approximately 40% lower than last winter. If prices this year had been the same as in 2010-2011, the 68F set-point would have resulted in even greater cost avoidance.
Continued support and participation in campus-wide conservation strategies will help Western reach our 10x12 goal for a 10% reduction in utilities consumption and costs by the end of 2012. The next action goals include a 36% drop in carbon emissions by 2020, followed by a climate-neutral Western in 2050, as described in the President's Climate Action Plan.
For more information please visit the 10x12 Program on Western's Sustainability website: http://www.wwu.edu/sustain/programs/10x12/.
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- Western Sustainability Newsletter
- Volume 1.3: March 2012
- Volume 1.2: February 2012
- Volume 1.1: November 2011