Tim Ball examines solar energy panels after installation atop Brotman Hall.
From soap to solar panels, CSULB is doing its part to help improve the environment and save energy.
“We have done a huge amount of energy conservation projects, probably $20 million worth over the last 15 years,” said Scott Charmack, associate vice president of Physical Planning and Facilities Management, “and that’s not including the central plant, which is another $25 million.”
Last August, 800 photovoltaic solar power panels, each approximately 4 feet by 8 feet and weighing 107 pounds, were installed on the roof of Brotman Hall. In December, another 384 were placed on the covered parking in the facilities management yard. And, there are more to come.
“Those two installations represent the university’s continuing efforts to fulfill the sustainable and renewable energy goals of the CSU,” said Tim Ball, associate director of Facilities
Management–Engineering/Electrical Services and Utilities. “We’ll be able to reduce the impact of facilities management and administration on the campus from a power standpoint. It also represents the university’s responsibility to help satisfy the state’s electrical needs. There are many environmental benefits associated with this as well.”
According to Ball, on peak sun days, the solar panels atop Brotman Hall will take care of 80 to 90 percent of its power needs, and those near facilities management provide enough energy to handle the needs of the adjacent police station as well as its own yard.
“Some of the green technology is required, but we consider it more of the environmentally right thing to do as our driving force,” said Rob Quirk, director of Facilities Management. “Solar panels of today are much better than solar panels of 10 years ago and we anticipate continued improved efficiency in the future.”
In the mid-1990s the university built a central plant, a heating and cooling facility that consolidated the vast majority of plants across the campus, eliminating the outdated with state-of-the-art equipment. The plant still is considered cutting edge—so much so, in fact, that individuals throughout the United States and from around the world visit campus to tour it.
The plant makes ice at night when power is less expensive and uses this stored thermal energy to cool campus buildings during the day. According to Ball, the plant alone offsets two megawatts of demand, which is the equivalent of powering 200,000 homes. “On many days, we turn our chillers off and just run on ice,” Charmack added.
The university has always built some of the most energy efficient buildings, according to Charmack.
“The best way to reduce carbon emissions, to be ‘green,’ is to make very efficient buildings, so our impact on the environment from an energy standpoint is small,” he said. “In 15 to 20 years, you are going to have integrated windows and solar collectors, but right now it’s just too expensive. As technology matures and more people produce it, then it will become more affordable.”
And, while the larger projects make a major impact on the campus’ environmental objectives, it seems the smaller things also have a big effect.
The campus looks at purchasing “green” products as a first preference, Quirk said. “An example of this is hand soap, where we look for certified green, biodegradable, non-polluting products that go into the waste stream without causing any environmental damage.”
Paul Johnson oversees CSULB’s fleet of electric and hybrid service vehicles.
And water savings, of course, is another focus.
“We’ve installed about 250 hands-free faucets on campus and those help us save up to two and a half million gallons of water a year,” said Quirk, noting that CSULB uses 15 gallons of water a day per person, which is about half the national average. “With another 500 faucets scheduled to be put in, we anticipate on saving an additional six million gallons of water a year.”
A new automated system controls irrigation and a weather station soon will wirelessly interconnect with the irrigation controls. The irrigation water has a story of its own.
“More than 50 percent of water we use for irrigation is reclaimed,” Quirk said. “We have been using reclaimed water for over 20 years and the quality of the water continues to improve with technology.”
Even less water is needed because tree trimmings that formerly went directly into a landfill are now recycled as chippings and compost for use around campus plant beds. That cover helps retain moisture in the soil and reduces water usage.
CSULB also has replaced approximately 95 percent of its interior lighting with energy saving bulbs and is experimenting with LED lamps which provide better, more efficient light, particularly for places like the inside of a parking structure.
“Many of our practices and processes are in sync with the latest technologies and ‘green’ technologies,” said Quirk. Moreover, he notes the efforts of Jon Root, the campus manager of integrated waste management and waste services who oversees many of the university’s recycling efforts.
“Jon Root is probably the best in the state of California at what he does,” said Quirk. “He is very passionate and doesn’t take any shortcuts. Maybe most importantly is that he really makes the effort to educate the campus about recycling and we can see where faculty, staff and students buy into the program.”
The university also has made a notable effort to downsize its fleet vehicles, moving away from gas-powered vehicles to the point where more than 60 percent of the fleet runs on alternative fuel, mostly electric.
“With an electric cart, all you hear is a little buzz,” said Paul Johnson, fleet administrator and superintendent of building trades in Facilities Management. “There’s no exhaust and there’s no noise. They’re small, they’re safe and quiet so we don’t disturb students. They are just better all around for the environment we are in and working every day to improve.”
— Richard Manly contributed to this story.