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Energy Conservation Lessons Hit Home For Medical Student

October 20, 2010 - 1:00pm


University of Missouri medical student and new homeowner Venessa A. Lee is scrutinizing energy use more closely after spending the summer as an intern conducting energy audits on public buildings in Cass County, Mossouri.

Lee and five other students learned how to conduct energy audits, compile data and issue recommendations.

“I learned a lot about how much money you can save in the long run by spending some money upfront on energy efficient appliances and materials,” she says of her three-month energy auditing internship with engineering firm Universal Asset Management (UAM), in Kansas City, Mo.

The interns helped audit 84 public buildings -- from small city halls of 4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft. to the Cass County Criminal Justice Center, a 205,000 sq. ft. building that costs roughly $120,000 a year to heat and cool.

Energy savings

The training and internship program was incorporated into a larger energy savings effort undertaken by Cass County, Mo.

Funded in part through a $387,500 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant via the Recovery Act, Cass County has undertaken steps to identify and deliver on energy savings.

UAM worked with Cass County to deliver on audit and on savings, says Jared H. Findley, a designer for UAM.

“In the larger buildings you have one central command center that controls all of the rooms and zones throughout the building,” he explains. “Over time, a lot of zones get programmed differently and you can have zones conflicting with the original intent and design.”

Findley continues, “We’re reprogramming building management system set points and optimizing the operational capabilities of the current systems.”

UAM is also re-circuiting lights at various Cass County buildings to ensure that needed lights can be isolated from unneeded lights to conserve energy.

On-the-job training

Working with UAM, the interns performed calculations to pinpoint the present energy consumption of lighting, HVAC and water devices. They considered alternative energy and water options and ran the numbers to determine return on investment if changes were made.

Findley says interns were always escorted by field supervisors, but were not just passive observers.

“I was impressed with their willingness to jump into things, try to figure things out and understand the meaning of the project,” he says.

The interns delivered detail audit reports on each building including recommendations ranging from light bulb replacements to control system modifications. Many of the changes are already underway, Findley says

“They tied a full circle together of what is economically viable in the way of conservation and equipment replacement and provided recommended alternatives to the end user,” Findley adds. “They were instrumental to getting all of the work done and delivered on time.”

Lifelong lessons

In fact, because of what she learned as an intern, Lee has made energy efficiency upgrades at her new home.

She ’s changed light bulbs to compact fluorescents and purchased low-flow showerheads and toilets. Next she’s looking for opportunities to upgrade appliances and her thermostat. 

“The programmable thermostat [which automatically reduces heating or cooling at convenient times] was a recommendation we made to everyone and it’s something I plan to get for my own home,” she notes.

Whether or not they ultimately pursue careers in the field, interns like Lee say their energy consumption habits were forever changed by the experience.

“They all left with a much better understanding of what it takes to keep America’s energy needs fulfilled each day,” Findley says. “And now each intern understands what conservation measures they should personally take and how they should advise other people on how to limit their energy consumption.”