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A Model for Campus Sustainability & Modern Energy Management: Wentworth Institute of Technology

October 15, 2019

Amid growing concern about the state of the global environment and the need to develop sustainable, long term goals, Wentworth Institute of Technology offers a model of modern energy management focused on driving success using building data. In a recent webinar hosted by AASHE, Debra Shepard, Principal and Owner of Riverstone Sustainability and Wentworth’s Sustainability Advisor, explains how Wentworth is tacking the unique challenges facing higher education institutions by focusing on optimizing building performance.

The Conversation around Climate Change is Heating Up

On September 23, 2019, leaders from government, business, and civil society convened in New York City for a one-day Climate Action Summit. In discussing the call to action set forth by UN Secretary General António Guterres to achieve net zero CO2 emissions 2050, Shepard states, “the conversation is heating up, literally.” Shepard explains that while Wentworth and other higher education institutions across the United States have long championed sustainability on campus, we are now at a unique point in time in that today’s freshman class will be roughly the age of the average CEO when the 2050 deadline for achieving the net zero arrives. Reflecting on this point, Wentworth takes the position that it is the role of universities to educate students on becoming leaders in tackling the climate crisis.

Why Focus on Buildings?

Buildings account for nearly 40% of energy consumption in the United States with fossil fuels the predominant source of energy used to operate our built environment. That being said, significant opportunity still exists to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through more efficient building operations. Shepard additionally noted that the average person spends ninety percent of time indoors, which means that focusing on buildings offers universities an opportunity not only to reduce costs and GHG emissions, but also promote student health, leadership, and productivity.

Unique Challenges Facing Higher Education Institutions

Like many higher education institutions, Wentworth faced a unique set of challenges in improving sustainability across their buildings. The university campus sits on 31 acres and includes 27 buildings, both academic and residential. Approximately 50 percent of Wentworth’s 4,200 students live on a campus that is rapidly increasing in size. Despite this increase in gross square footage (GSF), Wentworth’s facilities operating budget has remained largely the same. The emphasis of improving sustainability across campus buildings, which is strongly supported by both the student body and the administration, has never been more critical.

The First New Building in 45 Years: A Case Study in LEEDv4

Since 2005, Wentworth has committed to achieving LEED Silver equivalent status for all new construction and major renovation projects. In January 2019, Wentworth opened the doors to its first new academic building in 45 years, the Center for Engineering, Innovation, and Sciences (CEIS). The 66,000 GSF building is the university’s first LEED version 4 project and houses laboratories, a maker space, multiple collaboration areas and offices, and is a living lab for modern energy management practices. According to LEED models, the CEIS building is expected to yield 17.7 percent in energy savings over baseline ASHRE construction practices. However, achieving the projected savings involves more than including green features in the design of the building. In transitioning from design to high performance operations, Shepard explains how Wentworth is leveraging the following modern energy management principles to achieve the projected energy savings:

  • Resource Efficiency: Real-time metering data is made available to improve performance and cost savings.
  • Operational Efficiency: Facilities and operations teams are engaged early and often to get feedback and ensure buy-in.
  • Occupant Wellbeing: Wentworth leverages real-time data and interactive storyboards to engage occupants, enhance academic offerings, and continuously collaborate with faculty and staff on campus sustainability initiatives.

“We seek to use our resources wisely at all times. We accept our obligation to safeguard the earth, its resources, its life, and its energy for the benefit of future generations.” – Wentworth Creed, 1904


How Wentworth Activates Modern Energy Management Practices with BuildingOS

Not long after Wentworth implemented BuildingOS on campus, they noticed their building heat map showed an unusual spike of energy during non-peak hours. Because the team had invested in sub-metering, they quickly found the building’s air handler unit was also displaying the same spike in energy use. So, although they had found the cause of the building’s overall energy increase, they still needed to understand the root cause of why the AHU was performing off schedule.

Diving deeper into their sub-metered systems, Shepard and the team discovered the opposite pattern on the water chiller. During the same time the AHU had high energy intensity, the chilled water was far lower than usual.

Gathering the team together, they diagnosed the problem to the chilled water unit malfunctioning for a few hours, which caused the building’s AHU to ramp up to compensate for the increased indoor temperature. This led to an overall increase in electricity use to run the HVAC system, which is what they initially saw in the first building heat map.

With a small team managing many buildings across the campus, the insights BuildingOS provided saved valuable time in not just identifying the cause of the energy spike, but also allowing the operations and facilities teams to use data to pinpoint and diagnose an unplanned equipment malfunction.

Learn more about Wentworth's ongoing campus sustainability initiatives by watching their webinar hosted by AASHE.