You might have watched movies and documentaries like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Chasing Ice” that give you a sense of urgency on the issue of climate change around the globe. You might have also noticed that summer seems to get hotter and hotter every year, especially when you are on campus taking summer session and wish you could be somewhere else.
The truth is, we’ve all learned about global warming and its significance, yet few of us really know how we can help on a daily basis. Fortunately, Anteaters have good news to share on the subject: The Smart Lab Initiative won the 2013 International Energy Efficiency Award for significantly reducing excessive energy use on campus at the S-Lab conference in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
UC Irvine’s award-winning Smart Lab Initiative has modeled ways to save energy in a world that is getting warmer. Matt Gudorf, campus manager of UCI Facilities Management, leads and oversees the Smart Lab Initiative. In an hour-long presentation, Gudorf illustrated the technology and system that saved UCI millions of dollars in its utility costs spent on laboratories alone.
In 2008, UC Irvine started its own energy-conservation cause known as the Smart Lab Initiative. The program meets President Obama’s Climate Action commitment, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from direct sources such as energy use in buildings and fuel consumption by 28 percent by 2020, according to White House documents.
In its beginning stages, UCI energy engineers in Smart Lab realized that the sources of the most energy consumption and cost were the laboratories themselves.
The Smart Lab team was determined to make laboratories more energy efficient, cutting down energy use by half across 13 buildings campus-wide, since its inception four years ago.
Laboratories are the places to begin cutting energy use because they take in 100 percent outside air ventilation with no recirculation of return air. Whether a laboratory is occupied or unoccupied, the original air ventilation system has an air change rate at six to ten times per hour 24/7. During the process of carrying air in and out, the system uses an immense amount of energy to supply, heat, cool, humidify, filter, disperse and exhaust air.
Just as the energy engineers and the project managers like Gudorf were eager to find out how to cut down energy use, they came across an air quality monitoring system that could adjust the rate of air ventilation in laboratories. Starting with Croul Hall, the Smart Lab “retrofitted” laboratories in a way so that the air change rate could be lowered to two to four times an hour, instead of ten.
The new energy efficient Centralized Demand Control Ventilation is described by Gudorf as a box with a vacuum pump and sensors from which tubes extend out to all of the labs. A tube takes a sample of air into the system and tests the sample.
“The system monitors the quality of air for contaminants — whether it’s carbon dioxide, chemicals, particles — and in the event where the air quality was bad, we would increase the ventilation rate, otherwise we’d lower to two and four times an hour when unoccupied,” Gudorf said.
With the change of the air ventilation system, the Smart Lab successfully reduced up to 60 percent of energy in buildings like Gillespie Neurosciences, Reines Hall, Sprague Hall, Hewitt Hall and Engineering 3.
Besides air ventilation, the other source that consumes a large amount of electricity is lighting and equipment. Changing the air ventilation system alone is not enough. To cut down electricity costs, the campus energy team also takes on a huge, ongoing project of turning old lights into energy-efficient LED lights as well as adding lighting sensors to classrooms across the UCI campus.
The student body engaged in research and laboratory work at UCI can simply help conserve energy by turning lights and monitors off and having the right computer settings when leaving laboratories. We can also close laboratory fume hoods, or what scientists call “shutting the sash.” In addition, we can also take our laptop plugs out when they are fully charged.
After significantly cutting 50 percent of our energy use on campus, Smart Lab has showcased the successful model for other UC campuses to follow.
Back home, the Smart Lab is still hoping to accomplish more at UCI in terms of saving energy in the next few years, and this cannot be done without students’ awareness of their daily energy use and their cooperation. Future energy-saving projects will take place not only in laboratories, but also in classrooms and open spaces across our campus.