Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) was established in 2004 to promote environmental research and education about the Finger Lakes area. Thus, serving as a leading example of energy efficiency is an important part of their objective. FLI was located in a circa-1860 historic home that was renovated to be a 6,478 square-foot green facility. The building was designed by a collaboration of students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in consultation with architects and contractors.
FLI's facility houses its six full-time staff members whose responsibilities include increasing the scientific understanding of the Finger Lakes region and disseminating the knowledge to the general public and regional policy makers. At the facility they provide interdisciplinary training for the next generation of environmental researchers, educators, and policy makers. They are a clearing house for environmental information about the 2,500 square-mile region and have a library of more than 1,600 publicly accessible documents. They create models to examine the impact of economic development strategies on the area's environment, as well as conduct research projects, create materials and educational opportunities for K-12 students and teachers, and develop and administer outreach programs. The campus facility serves as a location for guest lectures, educational workshops, scientific conferences, symposia, education programs, teacher professional training, public service events, and a site for undergraduate internships and independent studies.
The plan was to make the building energy efficient and a demonstration facility. To help achieve this goal, twelve 165-watt solar photovoltaic modules were installed on the southeastern side of the facility to capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. It was predicted that solar power would generate approximately 20% of the FLI's total electrical energy. A unique geothermal heating and cooling system features a series of six heat pumps which regulate interior temperatures by transferring heat from twenty 100-foot wells drilled along the shoreline of Seneca Lake. This solar and geothermal energy is supplemented by crediting blocks of wind energy from Fenner Wind Farm in Madison County. ENERGY STAR qualified products and equipment are used wherever possible. This includes office equipment, appliances, low-emissivity windows, CFLs, programmable thermostats, motion detection lighting, and insulation. Synthetic lumber decking and miniature on-demand hot water heaters are among the other "green" products. "Anytime a new or replacement purchasing decision is made we check for the ENERGY STAR label in that product category," says Sarah Meyer, community outreach coordinator. The ENERGY STAR Purchasing and Procurement Web site is very helpful. The college enacted an ENERGY STAR Purchasing Policy in 2007 committing HWS faculty and staff to always select ENERGY STAR qualified products."
Advance planning and design were not a complete solution, however. Since the opening of the building the FLI staff has worked closely with the HWS building and grounds crew, the HWS sustainability coordinator, and involved faculty and staff to help the building live up to the energy-saving predictions and expectations.
Portfolio Manager has become an important tool in tracking 2005 to 2007 energy usage and in monitoring the current energy-saving plan, according to Ms. Meyer. "When we analyzed the building's total electrical demand from 2005 to 2007, it showed that the solar panels were only providing about 3% of the total demand, rather than the predicted 20%, and they were operating at only 63% of their expected energy-efficiency." Analysis showed that part of the problem was the placement, design and installation of the panels, some of which was the result of conforming to National Historic Preservation Act guidelines. In 2008, to improve performance, foliage shading the solar panels was removed and a routine spring cleaning was completed to increase energy production and efficiency.
"A second issue emerged when we analyzed the efficiency of the solar panels," describes Ms. Meyer. "The building's energy demand well exceeded original predictions. This was largely due to much higher than expected electricity used by the geothermal system." Working to improve the system's electrical consumption continues to be an ongoing process of changes and tweaks. Inadequately sized heat pumps have been replaced, programmable thermostats have been adjusted, "antifreeze" has been added to the system, and more focused seasonal monitoring have all helped improve the picture. "Continuous monitoring and tweaking are important to sustain and enhance our energy-efficiency program," Ms. Meyer states. It's currently estimated that FLI is saving approximately $500 per year and nearly 6,000 kWh over earlier results.
Another change at FLI is the use of the "EZ Wizard Computer Power Management System" downloaded from the ENERGY STAR Web site to manager power usage by computers and monitors. The Power Management Calculator has been used to estimate the savings from putting this on all laptops, communal student workstations and staff computers. Based on 10 machines, FLI is saving $305 annually and 1,723 kWh.
FLI's continued use of Portfolio Manager has allowed the benchmarking of their building against other office buildings and it has earned a current rating of 92 and baseline rating of 89 out of 100. This makes FLI's facility eligible to earn the ENERGY STAR, the national symbol for superior energy efficiency. Portfolio Manager provides the institute information about the electric emissions rate and total site energy use. FLI then used EPA's Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Equivalencies Calculator to learn that their total GHG emissions are equivalent to the carbon sequestered annually by 2.7 acres of pine or fir forests.
"Portfolio Manager infused new thought into our energy-savings program," says Ms. Meyer. "At first when we saw our energy performance rating there was a sense of relief. Then we visualized a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent and we realized that our plan should not focus solely on savings, but also communicate the greenhouse gas reduction strategy and initiatives to decrease our total GHG emissions."
Because one of the roles of the institute is the dissemination of environmental information, more than 5,000 individuals have toured the facility to learn about green design and use of energy-efficient products. An educational exhibit and the FLI's Web site communicate details of the energy-saving program. Details and updates on the program are included in monthly newsletters, marketing materials, regional meetings, presentations, and table displays. EPA and ENERGY STAR publications are part of the clearinghouse library. FLI hosts educational programs pertaining to ENERGY STAR, energy savings, and the relationship to global warming. Guest speakers from ENERGY STAR, EPA, and national research facilities have been included in programs. Free ENERGY STAR materials are among handouts available for visitors in the FLI lobby.
"At times our energy savings plan has seemed more like an experiment," Ms. Meyer jokes. "Managing a green facility with state-of-the-art technology has meant challenges as well as solutions. We have made progress and the goal remains managing cost, maximizing efficiency, and maintaining comfort. We're on a much more efficient path today than we were two years ago, and we think it can continue to improve. We're also achieving our objective of educating the public, whether it's on the use of a unique system like the geothermal, or on what small steps, like adjusting a programmable thermostat, can have for significant savings. The monetary savings may seem relatively insignificant, but I think we're accomplishing a great deal beyond that."
Finger Lakes Institute estimates that they are saving over $300 annually in energy costs for the operation of their organization. The savings of over 4,300 kWh per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of nearly half of a home.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, President Mark Gearan
Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, 54th Senate District
Former Congressman James Walsh, Government Affairs Counselor