Office of Sustainability, architects monitor campus building energy expenditure

To improve a university’s carbon footprint, experts say the first step is to track its energy. In 2017, Kent State began tracking the energy expenditure of each building on campus.

“Back before we started all the energy conservation projects back in 2012, we did not have accurate building-by-building metering,” said Bob Misbrener, a project manager in the university architect’s office. “After the energy project, we knew we had to track everything ... so just about every building now is measured with all the utilities that come into it.”

Some of the energy conservation projects included the installation of solar panels, repairs and renovations to buildings and initiatives to decrease food waste.

Melanie Knowles, the manager of sustainability at Kent State, said the Office of Sustainability classifies and tracks energy usage through three areas: the energy produced on campus from the Summit Street Power Plant, energy purchased through FirstEnergy and greenhouse gasses the university cannot control, such as commuter emissions.

The office also tracks energy that each building expends through a dashboard that uses Johnson Controls, an HVAC company that provides building automation technology.

The web-based display tracks energy use in real time for nearly 50 buildings on and related to campus. Each building’s related page displays data for several different measures of energy usage: electricity, carbon dioxide emissions, steam and chilled water.

Misbrener said electricity data is accurate, with no room for human error, because it is measured by an electric meter, which is standard practice.

“Any time that electricity is going through the wire and into the building, the meter detects that,” he said. When a signal is detected by the sensor, the energy expenditure is recorded.

Among the academic buildings, the University Library, Williams Hall and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center consistently use the most electricity. Influencing factors may include the buildings’ hours of operation, construction, equipment usage and size.

University Library

Students study on the fourth floor of the University Library on Friday, April 7, 2017. FILE.

Occasionally, Misbrener said spikes in electricity occur during the summer because of air conditioning; other times, increases happen for mechanical reasons.

“Sometimes, we have in the past gotten some spikes on the Johnson Controls data because the sensor goes a little bit bad for an hour or even a few minutes at a time,” Misbrener said. “So, some of the spikes are not really true ... sensors fail, too.”

Charting the building-by-building electricity usage follows the same pattern for carbon dioxide — because these numbers are directly related to electricity data. Misbrener said the carbon dioxide emission number is based on the EPA’s greenhouse gas calculator, which equates energy data to emissions data.

“(The EPA) has a national average of how much fuel is burned by electricity,” he said.

He added that Kent State’s energy usage has decreased to the rate it was before numerous projects were completed, such as the addition and replacement of air conditioning units in residence halls. “Since 2012, we have improved almost 22 million square feet of buildings. ... Then we’ve added square footage on this campus, almost 300,000 square feet,” Misbrener said. “We have just this year gotten back to what we were using energy-wise back in 2012, after adding all that square footage and improvements.”

Sustainability Projects

Sustainability projects can be as simple as updating a building’s light bulbs to something as complex as an innovative design project like a green roof. Kent State has two buildings with green roofs, or roofs that grow plants on them: Taylor Hall and the Center for Architecture and Environmental Design.

Reid Coffman, an associate professor of architecture who studies green roofs, said Kent State’s interest in incorporating green infrastructure is promising.

“I think it’s been great that Kent State has installed two vegetative roof systems in the last few years,” Coffman said. “That commitment to understanding the process and what they are, and figuring out how to incorporate those into the buildings and their finances — in many ways, they’re in the early learning stages of that, and I think that’s fantastic.”

Another major campus sustainability project was the installation of solar panels on the Field House in 2012.

KSU buildings with LEED certification

  • Center for Architecture and Environmental Design: platinum-certified 
  • Center for Undergraduate Excellence: gold-certified 
  • College of Aeronautics and Engineering: gold-certified
  • Harbourt Hall: gold-certified
  • Heer Hall: gold-certified
  • Center for Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement: silver-certified
  • Center for the Visual Arts: silver-certified
  • Integrated Sciences Building: silver-certified
  • Koonce Hall: silver-certified 
  • Leebrick Hall: certified
  • Wright Hall: certified 
  • Science and Nursing Building (Stark): gold-certified
  • Regional Academic Center (Twinsburg): silver-certified
  • Tolloty Technology Incubator (Tuscarawas): certified 

In addition to updating and improving current buildings, Kent State promised all new construction and major renovations will attempt to qualify for LEED Silver Certification.

Currently, the Kent State campus system has 13 LEED certified buildings. LEED, leadership in energy and environmental design, is a rating system used by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). There are four levels in the ratings: platinum, gold, silver and certified. Kent State’s Center for Architecture and Environmental Design is the university’s only platinum certification.

Upcoming construction projects included in the Facilities Master Plan — the 10-year, $1 billion project of renovations to various areas of campus — are the Design Innovation Hub and a new College of Business Administration building. Kent State plans to begin the renovation of the old Art Building for the Hub at the end of the spring semester with an expected completion year of Fall 2020.

Emma Hughes is a project manager in the LEED department at USGBC. She said before working to certify older buildings, universities should track their usage.

“One critical first step, in terms of energy performance and resource use, is conducting an energy audit,” Hughes said. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure. And I think the first foundational step, and one that is often overlooked, is developing a comprehensive understanding of how the building, how the project is using resources.”

She also emphasized the importance of setting a budget for reconstruction and renovation projects.

“It’s really important to get stakeholder buy-in at the beginning of an undertaking of any sort of retrofit or similar activity,” Hughes said. “Because ultimately, that will determine the budget of what the owner and stakeholders are willing to do to improve the performance and the greenness of their building.”

Misbrener said some upcoming sustainability projects, such as replacing window panes in Nixson Hall, have to be put on hold until the money is approved.

“That’s on a list to be replaced ... but there are a lot of competing items for the money on campus,” he said. “So, it’s not always a building improvement that gets the approval.”

Other Campuses That Track

Other Ohio campuses report environmental data through Second Nature, a platform designed to help universities track sustainability.

Schools like the University of Cincinnati signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment — an initiative encouraging schools to develop climate change action plans — and were required to report to Second Nature.

Kent State did not sign on to the commitment and does not report data to the platform, but Knowles said comparison data is available. KentWired requested the data but has not yet received it.

Misbrener said the next round of sustainability projects will focus on Kent State’s regional campuses.

Anna Huntsman is the podcast producer. Contact her at ahuntsm1@kent.edu. Laina Yost is a senior reporter. Contact her at lyost5@kent.edu.

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