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Advanced Studies: Balancing Comfort & Sustainability

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When students are sweating in a classroom, facility managers want to know that it’s because of a tough exam, not an HVAC issue. A comfortable learning environment is paramount. But it’s not always easy to deliver, especially when conservation and sustainability are also a priority.
 
Most sustainability programs start with monitoring energy usage, improving heating and cooling systems (a boon for comfort), and upgrading to more efficient lighting. However, taking a school’s sustainability efforts to the next level can seem like walking a tightrope. How do you consume less and cut back while still making sure classrooms are perfectly suited for learning?
 
The answer is less complex than it seems with energy-management strategies that employ geothermal, solar and wind technologies, and tie into local utility demand response programs. These options help trim energy use and environmental impact in ways that don’t affect those busy studying and teaching. They can even lend themselves to the classroom.
 
Geothermal: Geothermal heating and cooling is a renewable resource that taps into the stable temperatures below the earth’s surface to provide heat in the winter months and cool facilities in summer. This technology can help schools limit the use of chillers, for example, and further decrease overall energy usage in a building.
 
Solar: Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are becoming a powerful renewable energy source for schools. Panels can be easily installed on building rooftops or in unused fields. Additionally, these systems can serve as a compelling teaching tool and add value to a school’s curriculum.
 
Wind: Similar to solar PV, wind turbines can double as a renewable resource and teaching tool for colleges and universities. Additionally, turbine designs are becoming more aesthetic, safer for birds and better protected from ice damage. These new advancements help decrease maintenance needs, and can generate city and public support.
 
Demand Response: Enrolling in a utility’s demand response program isn’t so much a sustainability tactic, but it can have significant benefits. These programs allow schools to connect with their local utility when overall demand spikes. Organizations enrolled in these programs may be asked to strategically reduce their electrical load, which can result in rebates or other incentives.
 
These are just a few ideas that can help higher-ed institutions graduate to the next level of sustainability while making sure students save their sweat for mid-terms.