Examining UW-Madison campus sustainability

Monday, October 13, 2008

From an article by Logan Jaffe in The Badger Herald:

James Pawley is unimpressed with University of Wisconsin’s sustainability efforts. A UW zoology professor, he teaches a course called “Responding to Global Warming,” one of his many efforts to keep students active in going green.

“We have not brought glory to ourselves,” Pawley said. “In fact, it is miserable and appalling. Our entire sustainability system must be reevaluated.”

Pawley may be onto something. Based on a recent study by the National Wildlife Federation, UW only received an exemplary rating in green landscaping, one of the survey’s 18 categories. Other categories included conservation, renewable energy sources and recycling — none of which UW ranked highly in.

Inefficient Labs

“We’re a research university, and that by itself causes the buildings to consume more energy than other classrooms,” said Faramarz Vakili, president of We Conserve — an environmental organization working to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2010. According to a We Conserve report, electricity accounts for 46 percent of UW’s total energy costs, with more than half that amount used in research laboratories. Pawley said this is largely due to fume hoods and fans, which blow out hot air from inside the lab. This requires new air to be pumped back into the room and reheated.

There are a total of 3,600 fans on campus, each at 26,000 horsepower, equaling about 6,500 Prius engines.

“Potential for huge savings exist, but we bring in over nine million cubic feet of air to these buildings, and we are trying to use that as efficiently as possible,” Vakili said.

Pawley said these fume hoods are not designed to turn off. While We Conserve recently began to reduce fan sizes, Pawley offers his own solutions: turn the fans off when not in use and install heat exchangers so the air blown out can reheat the air being sucked in.

“Places like College Library are packed all the time, so it needs to keep up and running,” said Tony Uhl, chair of the Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group. “If there’s a lab not running after 5 p.m., what’s the point of keeping everything on?”