Making a greener campus

College technology officials say environmentally friendly policies can save IT departments millions as campuses across the United States adjust to tighter operating budgets.

At a forum discussion with chief information officers and campus administrators, Wendell C. Brase, vice chancellor for administrative and business services at the University of California Irvine, said tech officials should know their college’s carbon footprint, promote more energy-efficient ways to cool servers, and cut energy usage in laboratories that generally use the majority of a campus’s electricity.

Brase gave his presentation at the 10th annual EDUCAUSE conference in Orlando, where thousands gathered Oct. 28-31 to discuss the latest in higher-education technology use.

Brase stressed that green policies should not be isolated to campus IT departments. At UC Irvine, he predicted, student housing would increase dramatically in the coming years, cutting down on the number of students who commute to class every day.

"This is the greenest thing a college or university can do," he said, adding that about half of UC Irvine’s students live on campus, a number well above the national average.

Because students still will need transportation without their cars on campus, Brase said the campus has bought bio-diesel buses that are carbon neutral, meaning the amount of harmful carbons expelled by the vehicles is limited.

"Raise that bar," Brase implored his fellow campus officials. "We have to really raise our sights."

For universities that fly professors, lecturers, and researchers from coast to coast on a weekly basis, offsetting those carbon emissions is challenging, but doable, Brase said. Renewable energy—not fossil fuels that burn and pollute the air—should account for at least 15 percent of a campus’s total energy output, Brase said. Also, shareholder proposals for endowment investments to be put toward companies that support sustainability will help offset a large campus’s pollutants.

Hot summer days in California, Brase said, can put the university’s air-conditioning costs through the roof. A solution, he said, is thermal storage. At night, when temperatures drop, air conditioning units create and store cool air using far less energy than they would during the daytime. When students and professors come to class the next day, the air conditioners turn on and pump the air stored the night before.

Brase said thermal storage would be key in cutting energy costs at the country’s hottest campuses in California, Arizona, and other states with mild to warm winters. But he said every large research university should consider converting to thermal storage.

Cooling computer servers also is an enormous cost for every large university, Brase said. Researchers and IT managers are discovering new ways to cool down the servers without setting the air conditioning to its lowest temperatures. Brase said servers work efficiently at 90 degrees, several degrees higher than most IT officials had believed.

Building a roof over the server area in a lab building, Brase said, would block off the rest of the room and limit the square footage that needed to be cooled. Universities also can pump outside air into the server room, avoiding air conditioning altogether.

Links:

EDUCAUSE

University of California Irvine

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