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3 Questions: Walt Henry

Facilities engineer discusses how MIT is leading the way for universities to practice what they preach on energy efficiency.
Walt Henry, director of the Systems Engineering Group at MIT’s Department of Facilities
Walt Henry, director of the Systems Engineering Group at MIT’s Department of Facilities

This year, MIT became a member of the Global Superior Energy Performance (GSEP) Partnership, a nationwide collaboration that aims to find, quantify and share the best methods for universities, businesses and industries to save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. MIT is the only academic institution represented in the group, which also includes the Cleveland Clinic, retailers Walmart and Target, and industrial companies Nissan, 3M and Dow Chemical. Walt Henry, director of the Systems Engineering Group at MIT’s Department of Facilities, discusses the implications of this collaboration and the ways MIT aims to implement its goals.

Q. How were the members chosen to be part of this initiative, and what does it mean for MIT to be part of it?

A. They were chosen because they have substantial programs of their own already underway, as does MIT. The thought was that this initiative would help them take it to another level, and then share that with others in their sector. It was pretty clear it was a good idea. What we have committed to do is to take the programs we have already begun, and revise those programs a little bit to conform to a new ISO (International Standards Organization) standard that is in the process of development. The intent is to create a framework for institutions to build their energy programs around. So we will take all the documentation we have created for our program and reformat it to match the requirements of the ISO standard, which is expected to be issued next year.

The benefit for MIT is that we now have a much more robust description and documentation of the program, developed in an internationally accepted way.

Q. Once we document what MIT is doing, what’s the next step?

A. The second step is implementing the program according to the procedures outlined in that description. We will find some example projects we can carry out in compliance with that document. Right now we’re working on things like installing energy-efficient lighting, and improving the compressed air system, but we’re looking for projects that are somewhat more complex. For example, we’re working on improving the temperature difference in our chilled-water system (used for cooling buildings). We send water out at a certain temperature, it goes through the buildings, and it comes back at a higher temperature. If you can get buildings to perform so that each gallon of water absorbs more heat than it does now, you improve the efficiency of the system, because you can pump less water to get the work done. That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for. We’re hoping to demonstrate some creativity and ingenuity. We will also continue to work with the “Walk the Talk” Campus Energy Task Force, organized by the MIT Energy Initiative.

Q. Are there specific goals or targets that members of this collaboration are expected to achieve, or at least aim for?

A. We have talked to the Department of Energy about that. Whatever we do should be able to give a 15 percent improvement. But there isn’t a specific criterion we have to meet. We will talk about some goal that will be specifically related to a given project. The important point is that we have to measure, we have to document everything. One of the things that gives us an advantage here is that we knew that measurement and verification would be important for our program with NSTAR (a recently announced collaboration to reduce MIT’s electricity use by 15 percent over three years). Our goal is to ensure that whatever project we do with DoE does advance our commitment to NSTAR as well. Peter Cooper (manager of sustainability engineering and utility planning for the Department of Facilities) has created a very robust measurement and documentation protocol and had that reviewed by faculty members, including Leon Glicksman and Les Norford, to be sure the methodology we’re following is rigorous enough. The idea is to provide a national standard for people to verify their energy savings claims. For example, if we improve the lighting in a building, [the standard] would have us measure at the building level the energy used by lights, and then measure again after the new lights are installed. In newer buildings, we’re able to do that. For example, in the Stata Center, it is set up so we can measure [the energy used by lights] directly. So we’re measuring where possible, and in older buildings, we’ll use industry standards to extend this to things we can’t directly measure.

We’re not afraid to experiment and take appropriate risks. We had some LED lighting applications that didn’t work out as we had hoped, but that technology is developing at an amazing rate, a rate we’ve never seen before. We’re mindful of the economics of these things, particularly in lighting — there are a number of opportunities with a payback in one and a half to three years, and some things probably closer to one year.

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