Sac State and SMUD spearhead campus’ clean energy transition

State Hornet Staff

In an effort to reignite its green energy initiatives, Sacramento State is taking a proactive approach toward renewable energy projects in and out of the classroom.

Sac State became the sub-recipient of a federal grant three years ago, receiving a little more than $8 million through a partnership with Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

According to the Department of Energy’s website, the grant money was given out as part of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package in which he allotted around $3.4 billion for a national “Smart Grid” project dedicated to energy efficiency.

“SMUD approached the university to be a sub-recipient of a grant from the Department of Energy,” said Linda Hafar, senior director of Sac State’s Sustainability and Operations. “The Smart Grid grant was awarded to SMUD and as a sub-recipient our portion was a little over $8 million.”

Hafar said there are four main components to Sac State’s Smart Grid Project: electric car charging stations; smart-meters to measure building energy use; an updated HVAC ventilation system; and newly installed control boxes to better regulate the campus circuitry.

The electric car chargers kick-started the recent green energy drive last semester when Sac State received two free Chevy Volts and two charging stations from SMUD.

Deepak Aswani, the project manager behind SMUD’s electric transportation experiment, said Sac State would be providing useful information on the cars’ usage and efficiency.

“In this effort, CSUS is helping SMUD in gathering data and experience on plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charger installations and vehicle usage patterns,” Aswani said. “The costs of operating a PEV are lower than a conventional vehicle. It is not uncommon for drivers to save several hundred to a thousand dollars per year in fuel and maintenance costs.”

Hafar said 14 new electric charging stations have been installed for public use since the original two installations last October.

“There are three right over here by (the Facilities building), there are seven in Parking Structure II and there are four in Parking Structure I,” Hafar said. “Those will cost you to use them. If you’re a student and you come to campus, would you expect us to fill up your gas tank? Probably not.”

The 14 additional charging stations are still in the process of being fully commissioned and have not been activated yet, Hafar added.

The smart meters and upgraded HVAC ventilation system go hand-in-hand. They are set up in state buildings – buildings where Sac State classes are generally held – and help staff members monitor the electricity usage and air temperature in each room.

“What we’re doing now is metering (buildings),” Hafar said. “The meter is installed and then it’s communicating over a campus Ethernet, and that data is transmitted over to a software that will allow us to see the trends in the buildings and see how much energy they’re using.”

The software Sac State uses, Tridium, coincides with the platform Niagara AX, all of which are operated through a company named Vykon. The smart meters are provided by Trimark Associates, Inc.

With the smart-meters and HVAC system working together, anyone with a login to the computer program can recalibrate the cooling and heating systems as needed to save as much energy as possible.

Dr. Emir José Macari, dean of the college of engineering and computer science at Sac State, said the Trimark meters were sophisticated tools and pivotal in steering the university toward optimal energy efficiency.

He said he would eventually like to micro-meter each room on campus.

“The next step is really to have sub-meters,” Macari said while giving a tour of the California Smart Grid Center Showcase in Riverside Hall. “So within the building (we’ll) also have metering throughout. How much energy is being spent by all the computers that we have in all the labs? How can we better optimize that?”

The last item on the Sac State’s Smart Grid Project is the installation of four new giant fuse boxes that allow operators to reroute the university’s 12,000 volt distribution system.

“When we put on a new building or have an electrical service that we need to perform, we end up having to shut off a dozen or more buildings because that circuit ties into them,” Hafar said. “We didn’t have a way to feed the power from one of our other circuits. We have six circuits that go around campus…What this (fuse box) does is it allows us to switch from one circuit to another to feed portions of the campus.”

Before the fuse boxes were installed, Hafar said maintenance crews could not work in one building without having to shut the whole campus down.

“We’re not allowed to work those (buildings) when they’re energized,” Hafar said. “It’s a huge safety issue. (With) 12,000 volts, you’re dead. You’re really dead.”

The four fuse box switches are located in Parking Lot 10, near Benicia Hall, by River Front Center and by Capistrano Hall. Hafar said Sac State might need more in the future.

As a whole, Macari said Sac State was gradually becoming a leader in the green energy movement among local universities. He said the efforts from the city of Sacramento and Sac State students themselves are fueling these recent sustainability initiatives.

With the help of Mike Christensen, the associate vice president for risk management services at Sac State, senior mechanical engineering majors have been able to use a gated area near the Environmental Health and Safety Office to develop their senior projects.

Christensen called it the Sustainable Technology Outdoor Research Center, or STORC for short.

“All this dirt footprint you see here, and behind that fence, is a space that I’m encouraging the campus to use for exploring alternative technologies,” Christensen said. “What (we’re) doing in the whole sustainable energy realm has to do with the sustainable outdoor research center.”

One senior mechanical engineering project that is being housed in STORC right now is a biodiesel production system that uses kitchen oil from Sac State eateries to create biodiesel. Some others in the works include a food waste composter, a bio-composting toilet and a water purification solar heat exchanger.

Just like Macari said, Sac State is setting important footprints toward becoming a greener campus.

 “We’ve partnered the city of Sacramento, with SMUD and with Sac State to have our students help the city continue to fulfill the precedent – or almost legacy – of green buildings,” Macari said. “The truth is (industry professionals) really like our students because of these research projects and the projects that are tying us to our local industry and our local communities.”