Environmental Studies Internship
Energy Audit of Whitman College
Whitman College uses about 12 million kWh of electricity every year in 48 buildings. At the same time it buys over 300,000 gallons of water every year from the City of Walla Walla . I chose to do an energy audit of the campus, because I perceived a disconnect between Whitman's Environmental Principles and its actions. I wanted to see if my feelings were correct or not. The environmental principles as published on the Whitman website are:
Recognizing the impact Whitman College has on the environment and the leadership role Whitman College plays as an institution of higher learning, the college affirms the following environmental principles and standards, which shall be consulted to explore the practical ways Whitman College can promote an environmentally conscious campus.
To reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials, to reuse materials when possible, and utilize recycled materials.
To consider the eco-friendliest science and technology available to decrease our environmental impact.
To continue to build an energy-efficient campus in the 21st century.
To patronize companies that are active in their defense of the environment from further degradation.
To encourage individuals' environmental accountability through programs of environmental education.
To consider environmentally friendly options when they exist and are practical in decisions regarding developmental projects.
To further the use of reused materials, recyclable materials, and the Internet for campus communications.
To encourage and request food service to make environmentally friendly decisions in purchasing food and supplies, reducing waste, and reusing materials.
To maintain campus grounds through the employment of bio-friendly substances and services.
To strive to improve upon current practices so we may harmonize the trends of the industrial world with the natural environment.
These principles suggest that Whitman is devoted to increasing its energy efficiency and lessen its footprint on the earth. The principles however are worded such that they need only be consulted in the continuous operation of the college. They never require a certain action, they only suggest it. This is important for two reasons. Obviously, Whitman cannot simply go out tomorrow and spend millions of dollars on brand new state of the art appliances and fixtures. There is a continuum on which Whitman operates, and as the principles state, an increased attendance to environmental principles lessens Whitman's global footprint. However, at the same time, the vague wording of these principles allows Whitman to write off any environmental improvement is simply not cost effective. Currently this divide between environmental improvement and excessive spending stands at 10 percent. Any increase in cost over 10 percent for environmental improvement is not worth enacting for Whitman. (Source: Cindy Waring – 2003-04 Chair, Conservation Committee/ Director Administrative Services)
I initially wanted to look at all three utilities that Whitman buys; Electricity, Gas and Water. However I soon learned that the energy flows are so complex here at Whitman, that simply looking at electricity usage would keep me busy for a semester. Water is impossible to isolate for specific buildings, because the meter at each building includes use inside the building, and lawn watering on the grounds around the building. For instance, the water meter for Baker Faculty Center records water used in the kitchen, restrooms, and other uses inside the building, as well as the lawns around the building. Most all buildings on campus operate like this. In addition, well next the Science Building supplements the water from the City of Walla Walla in certain areas. Because of the lack of separate meters for the various sources and uses, it is virtually impossible to ascertain how much specific bathrooms, or kitchens use in various buildings, and thus it is impossible to make a judgment on how efficient these appliances are.
The same goes for Natural Gas use. Each building on campus has a local gas fired furnace and gas fired water heater. These operate to provide heat for about eight months of the year. During the cold winter months, the boiler at the physical plant is operated. This provides steam heat to most all buildings on campus. When the main boiler is running, the local units simply provide backup. There are no records kept of when the boiler is on, versus when the local furnaces are on. Thus it is impossible to isolate how much gas each building is using, as the metered amount is only a partial reading. Additionally, the main boiler located at the physical plant switches to diesel when natural gas is in high demand. (Source: Dan Park – Director, Physical Plant)
Because of the complications of getting accurate water and gas information for separate buildings, I chose to focus on electricity. There is only one supplier of electricity, and it is the most carefully metered of the three. Whitman's electricity comes from Pacific Power. This means that the bulk (88%) of the electricity is generated by steam, (either natural gas or coal fired). The rest is hydroelectric, with a very small amount coming from other sources, which can include wind or other renewable power. Whitman pays 102 electric bills each month. These are paid by three different offices on campus. The Trust Office pays the bills for all trust houses which are the Whitman owned off-campus rentals. I ignored these buildings in my research. Residence Life pays the bills for all of the residence halls: Anderson Hall, Prentiss Hall, Marcus House, North Hall, College House, Tamarac House, The Interest Houses, and Jewett Hall, Lyman House, and Douglas Hall. The Physical Plant pays all the rest of the bills, which include all of the academic buildings, office buildings, president's house, etc.
In my internship, I compiled data on all of the on-campus buildings. The chief complication to my data collection is the fact that there is a main campus meter. This single meter covers eleven of the biggest buildings on campus, all of the buildings surrounding Ankeny , and Cordiner and Douglas . This meter accounts for about seventy percent of the electricity use on campus. Thus the only area where I could get specific data were the 35 buildings not on this meter. All but 15 of these buildings use less than 20,000 kWh/year. For these buildings however, I was able to gather good data for the last three years. Pacific Power keeps very good records for all of Whitman's accounts back three years.
With the data that I got, I tried to analyze it in various ways. One area that if found very interesting was the interest houses. I had good data for all eleven houses, and there was a huge discrepancy between the houses. The Outhouse was by far the smallest electricity user. I found this to be a very good validation of the Outhouse's mission. It used half of what MECCA used, which was the second lowest user. The Fine Arts House used a full five times as much electricity as the Outhouse. I graphed the usage for all eleven houses, and found that they were on a gradual continuum. Because all of the houses are comparably sized, and have similar numbers of residents, the variations have to be due to either resident usage practices, as in the Outhouse, or inefficient heating systems and other appliances. In the future it would be good to look at each house individually and find out why there is such a discrepancy, and in the case of the Fine Arts House, The Community Service House, The TEK, and the German House, improvements may very well fall within the 10% range.
Electricity usage for the entire campus can be split up without any metering to a certain extent. Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) makes up about half of the electricity usage. The rest goes primarily to computers and lights. By knowing the rated usage of all of these various appliances, and the number in each building, a general idea of how much electricity each building uses can be ascertained. However, the purpose of an energy audit is to find discrepancies in those end-user calculations by measuring the actual electricity going into a specific building or appliance.
Whitman is currently not set up at all to conduct such an audit. Very few records are kept of kilowatt-hours (electricity), cubic feet (water), or therms (gas) usage on campus. The records that do exist are incomplete and cryptic. In order for an energy audit to be effective, good records need to be kept on as wide a scale as possible. It is obviously not feasible to keep track of every electrical outlet and shower stall, but it would be possible to keep thorough records of usage by building. The bills come through the office every month, and if a system were setup where a quick and simple data entry would suffice, soon there would be a wealth of information to analyze. If a handful more meters were installed on campus, such as individual meters on each of the eleven main buildings, and on the Science Building pump, a vast amount of potentially useful data could be collected. Much less realistic, but potentially feasible would be the isolation of lawn irrigation from indoor water use. This would allow for investigation into campus water use, and could locate inefficient water users. At least, a simple but careful data collection system for the existing meters that covers both the physical plant accounts and the residence life accounts would help greatly in ascertaining where excess energy is going. I think that many of these changes could be justified very easily under the existing environmental principles. Adding new meters is not a costly process, and neither is the small amount of data collection each month. Larger changes could happen over time as the infrastructure is changed.
This project is far from complete. If some of the above changes are implemented a student could much more easily make very constructive use of that data. The included spreadsheets are a great jumping off point for a future internship. I learned a lot from this project, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned how the energy flows on the Whitman campus, and who is responsible for keeping it flowing. I found most everyone to be exceedingly helpful, and I would like to thank Dan Park, Gail Worthington, Fran Meyer, Cindy Waring, Nellie Newer, and Janice Wright, all of Whitman, and Vince Crawford of Pacific Power.
Dan Park – Director, Physical Plant
Gail Worthington - Physical Plant
Nellie Newer and Janice Wright – Residence Life
Cindy Waring – Chair, Conservation Committee/ Director Administrative Services
Fran Meyer – Accounts Payable Coordinator
Vince Crawford – Account Rep – Pacific Power