Penn State team places second in national green energy challenge

A team from the Penn State student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) recently won second place in the 2013 ELECTRI International Green Energy Challenge for their proposal to retrofit the Fraser Street Parking Garage in State College, Pa.

The competition challenged students to design a comprehensive energy retrofit proposal for an existing parking garage in their community. Each team’s proposal was required to include an energy audit of the chosen parking facility; recommendations for new lighting efficiency upgrades as well as for the use of renewable energy systems and the installation of new electric vehicle charging stations; construction management plans; and a feasible strategy for financing the entire project. A total of 19 collegiate teams from across the country participated.

“The knowledge gained from this challenge is invaluable,” said Anthony Talarico, an undergraduate student in energy engineering and co-president of the NECA Penn State student chapter. “Not only did I gain the technical knowledge but I also gained great leadership experience.”

Penn State’s team consisted of 25 students in engineering and energy-related undergraduate programs. After receiving a top score for their written proposal, the team was one of three finalists invited to present their plan to a panel of six judges at the 2013 NECA Convention and Trade Show on October 12 in Washington, D.C. Energy engineering students Joshua Carey, Rosie Cianni, Nicholas Pratt, and Anthony Talarico as well as architectural engineering students Kevin Clement and Brad Robertson delivered Penn State’s presentation.

The team outlined how they chose to create a proposal for the Fraser Street Parking Garage, which stands six-stories high and encompasses 28,000 square feet in downtown State College, Pa. “The Fraser Street garage showed a lot of potential for energy savings because it has not received any major improvements since its construction in 1986,” explained Joshua Carey, co-president of the NECA Penn State student chapter. A meeting with the parking manager for the Borough of State College, which owns and operates the garage, revealed a borough renovation budget of $250,000 along with a required payback period of six years.

Working within those constraints, the Penn State team proposed the installation of a new LED lighting system with daylight sensors that would save $54,000 annually in energy costs, use 75 percent less energy than the existing system, and provide brighter lighting throughout the garage. The team also put together a plan for the integration of onsite renewable energy generation, which included rooftop solar panels that would net the borough $17,000 in energy savings per year. To offset the higher installation fees that accompany the use of solar panels, the team even devised a community investment scheme whereby interested investors would cover the upfront cost of the panels and, in return, receive direct payments from the borough for the cost of electricity used. In addition, electric vehicle charging stations were proposed to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles. Here, the electricity used to charge the cars would come from the solar energy produced by the solar panels, providing a clean alternative to gasoline.

This comprehensive energy plan came in with a total price tag of just under $540,000 with the borough’s cost limited to $229,000. With an annual energy savings of $54,000, the plan also met the borough’s required six-year payback period. These numbers so impressed the borough’s leadership officials that they plan to review elements of the retrofitting proposal for inclusion in future budget discussions. “This kind of project embodies what we are looking for – now and in the future – because it applies new technology and forward thinking to our everyday needs,” said Elizabeth Goreham, mayor of State College, Pa.

This outcome is one of the reasons why Robert Kessler Jr., an undergraduate student in electrical engineering, chose to participate as a member of the Penn State Green Energy Challenge team. “The NECA Green Energy Challenge was the opportunity for my expertise in electrical engineering to be used for public and environmental benefit,” he said. “Not only did the garage have a safer environment in the parking structure, but the energy reduction was a huge impact.”

Kyle Haab, energy engineering student and treasurer of the NECA Penn State student chapter, saw additional advantages to the hands-on project. “Not only did I gain valuable technical experience, but I also got the chance to network with professionals in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency. I feel extremely privileged to have gotten the chance to work with everyone involved on this project.”

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Last Updated October 30, 2013