New display points out inefficiencies in buildings
A “green screen” was installed in Smith Memorial Student Union Oct. 18, which displays the building’s water, electricity and gas usage and updates its report every 15 minutes.
The green screen allows “both the university and the building users to see exactly how the building is performing over time,” said Mark Gregory, associate vice president of finance and administration, in an email.
“The data can be combined with outside temperature and daylight information to gauge the building’s efficiency,” Gregory continued. “This allows for adjustments to the building’s operations and helps us find opportunities to improve the building with conservation, systems upgrades and simple things like insulation and operating hour adjustments.”
The green screen makes this information available not only to building engineers, but also to students and anyone that happens to walk by. According to Gregory, the idea is to “make energy and water consumption more tangible for people. The effect we want is the ‘Prius effect’—the Prius’s advanced display gives feedback that has been shown to make people more efficient drivers.”
The green screen simply displays the data, but digital meters installed throughout the building feed the data to the screen and update the information every 15 minutes. According to Gregory, the screen pointed out an issue the first day the system was activated: It revealed that water was running all night long in the building.
SMSU was an ideal location for the green screen because it is an area of such high traffic, not only for students, but also for visitors.
While general utility data has been available prior to the screen, that data has not been displayed as frequently or on such a focused level as it is now in SMSU.
“Buildings account for more energy use than all forms of transportation combined…so understanding how buildings perform is as critical as knowing the MPG of the cars we drive,” Gregory said. “This is really a major upgrade to those old meters that will allow us to understand more about what the buildings are actually doing.”
“We hope to build many more—ideally we at least want 15-minute utility data for all of our major buildings,” Gregory added. “Right now we are learning how this works and getting a sense of how much money it can save us.”
Sophomore Dennis Donovan said the green screen was a good idea because it provides information on power usage, which most people do not track on a daily basis. Senior Bethanie Collins agreed that it was an interesting idea. However, both students said the screen was somewhat difficult to notice for pedestrians passing through the building, perhaps lessening the screen’s effectiveness.
“Students are by far the dominant users of our buildings, so this is a system that will give them feedback and help them use their buildings more cost-effectively. We hope that the data from these systems becomes part of classrooms and research work the students are engaged in. We also hope that students demand these types of systems in the wider world when they move on beyond their education here,” Gregory said.
Another green screen has already been slated for installation in Lincoln Hall. The construction manager of the project, Joanna Evenson, said that work has already begun, and that while she does not have a specific completion date, the second screen is expected to be finished sometime in December.