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New center aids UI’s energy use


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Three men clacked away at run-of-the-mill QWERTY keyboards, eyeing four 40-inch monitors a few feet above their heads. Laboring under bright fluorescent lights, the operators can make major changes to the UI’s energy consumption by simply punching a few buttons.

University of Iowa officials formally opened the new one-room Energy Control Center, tucked into the Office of Sustainability, last week. The new facility will allow officials to monitor and control how much energy the university community in every campus building.

“It all looks like science fiction to me,” said Jonathan Carlson, the senior associate to UI President Sally Mason, in a speech to roughly 20 reporters and staffers.

The university only picked up about $20,000 of the project’s $500,000 price tag after help from President Obama’s stimulus package. Officials say it is a major step toward the university’s plans to increase sustainability.

“This is a state-of-the-art center that brings together and allows the University of Iowa to manage [energy consumption] at the greatest efficiency possible,” said Liz Christiansen, director of the UI’s Office of Sustainability.

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In addition to tracking energy use, the center allows operators to switch between biomass and coal to power university buildings. The system provides technicians information about the cost of the electricity being used and allows them to make money-saving changes accordingly.

The setup — consisting of 12 computers and four monitors — also tells the operators how much chilled water each building is using and the average temperature of facilities around campus.

Although this new addition is important to keep energy costs low and at the same time efficient, it also offers students a learning opportunity.

Craig Just, associate research engineer in the UI College of Engineering, said the Energy Control Center is a great place for a hands-on learning.

“One of the things I like about teaching engineering is that you can build stuff and then touch it and feel it,” he said. “And that’s exactly what I think is going on here at the Energy Control Center. It’s something real, and students can see it. It doesn’t have to be some type of theoretical thing we just talk about in class.”

Burning oat hulls for power instead of coal — a practice the UI started seven years ago — and the new facility are just two of a handful of plans UI officials have outlined to make the campus “greener.”

Glen Mowery, the director of Facilities Management’s utilities and energy management, said future plans include implementing solar, wind, and possibly even hydro power.

The UI was even recently named a “Green College” by the Princeton Review. The rankings cite the university’s “commitment to Leadership in Energy an Environmental Design.”

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