Penn State students take on the Green Energy Challenge

A team from the Penn State student chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) has once again entered the annual ELECTRI International Green Energy Challenge. The 2014 competition asks students to conduct a detailed analysis of a student union building and provide a written proposal that outlines their recommendations for energy efficiency improvements. The three teams whose proposals earn the most points will be invited to present their plans at the 2014 NECA Convention and Trade Show in September in Chicago, Il.

For their proposal, the Penn State team chose to work with the Perkins Student Center on the Penn State Berks campus in Reading, Pa. “Of all the student union buildings across the 23 commonwealth campuses, the Perkins Student Center was among the oldest and has had the least amount of energy efficiency upgrades installed, according to Joshua Carey, bachelor’s degree student in energy engineering.

The team first conducted an assessment of the current energy systems in place at the student center and also analyzed the degree of energy use throughout the facility. Their findings led them to recommend several improvements to increase the building’s energy efficiency.

"The Penn State NECA student chapter has been working hard on an energy retrofit proposal for the Perkins Student Center at Penn State Berk,” said Kevin Clement, president of the NECA Penn State student chapter and bachelor’s degree student in architectural engineering. “The main aspects are upgrading the lighting system, installing a photovoltaic array, and an improved monitoring system.”

The team also developed a plan to increase energy metering and the ability to monitor electrical use in the facility. Right now, the current monitoring equipment can observe 60% of the building’s primary electrical usage. To improve the monitoring capabilities and energy control, the Penn State team suggests the facility should integrate two new systems into the existing energy monitoring framework.

"Increasing the monitoring and controls of the Perkins Student Center helps students and staff see direct results of energy used from their behavior,” said Zach Kramer, bachelor’s degree student in energy engineering. “This information is a valuable teaching tool to educate people how changing their habits can save them energy, money and reduce carbon emissions. This conscious effort is key to living sustainable."

At the same time, the team proposes to add an interactive software component to engage students, faculty, and staff in the observation of energy usage of the Perkins Student Center. Using four existing displays in the building, visitors would be able to monitor the total energy usage in the facility along with the percentage of usage throughout its classrooms, communal spaces, and kitchens.

“Feedback from energy monitoring engages students to interact with the student union building in a way that has not been readily accessible before,” explained Rosie Cianni, bachelor’s degree student in energy engineering. “While students investigate their personal contribution to everyday electricity consumption, they generate curiosity in the matter and boost their own energy literacy all in one sitting.”

In total, the team’s proposal for the student center is projected to yield a total annual savings of nearly 280,000 kilowatt hours and $70,000 in utility payments. This translates into an overall savings of 24 percent of the building’s annual electrical energy usage.

To encourage their fellow Penn State students to become more energy aware, members of the NECA Penn State student chapter participated in EcoReps’ Campus Conservation Nationals, an annual challenge to reduce campus housing energy consumption by 5 percent. During the three-week event, students are encouraged to keep their lights off, unplug electronics when not in use, and participate in events aimed at energy awareness. The NECA student chapter conducted over 50 dormitory energy audits and even created a “quick sheet” to help dorm residents understand the energy evaluation process. Their efforts saved over 4,300 kilowatt hours and 400,000 gallons of water. “You could tell that EcoReps in East Halls were engaged in the audits, and the goal was achieved to established effective energy saving habits,” said Harrison Talbot, bachelor’s degree student in energy engineering.

The NECA Penn State student chapter welcomes new participants to join their team for next year’s Green Energy Challenge. Any student interested in joining the team can contact Kevin Clement at kevin.clement27@gmail.com.

“NECA is a great organization to join if you’re looking for a real-world experience,” said Jackie Eury, vice-president of the NECA Penn State student chapter and bachelor’s degree student in architectural engineering. “You evaluate an existing building, consult with professional clients, and network with valuable contacts within the industry. The Green Energy Challenge is an excellent way to meet students from other disciplines and cultivate your knowledge of the latest energy trends.”

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Last Updated May 14, 2014