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Chris Watt, Director of Utilities, University Operations

Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2011

Solar panels on top of the parking garage. The new wind turbine on the facilities building. LED lighting around the roof of Swig Hall. A quarter-long residence energy challenge.

It's pretty difficult to spend a day on campus without noticing something the University is doing to reduce energy consumption and increase its reliance on renewable energy. Students, faculty, and staff, more often than not, pass by without giving these initiatives a second thought. But Chris Watt, Director of Utilities and Contract Maintenance has thought about the University's energy consumption for 25 years.

Energy hasn't always been a priority
In 1986, when Watt joined SCU, there were no solar panels on the parking garage, certainly no wind turbine on the facilities building, and green carbon offsets were not even an option. To say energy reduction was not high on the University's list of priorities would be an understatement. Shortly after Watt joined SCU, a rudimentary campus-wide, time clock system that, in accordance with the time of day, would shut off fountains and lights was installed. While Santa Clara was an early adopter of this type of technology, the motivation at that time was to cut back on crewmember work hours and maintenance costs.

In the late 1980s, the University began retrofitting lighting by changing all bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent. It wasn't until the mid 1990s, however that Santa Clara began to look seriously at energy reduction. "In 1994 and 1995, we decided to become serious (about energy reduction) from a campus-wide perspective," Watt said. "We began to install the infrastructure to look at campus-wide (energy) use." While the main motivation for energy reduction was monetary savings, these initial projects, which monitored and controlled individual building's energy, helped pave the way for Santa Clara to be a leader in energy reduction in higher education.

But it is now
Today, cost savings are still a driving factor for Santa Clara to reduce energy usage, but the University's commitment to sustainability and climate neutrality are equally as motivating. "Our overall goal is to become carbon neutral," Watt said. Watt is involved in a number of recent energy savings and renewable energy projects that will move SCU closer to carbon neutrality:

  • A new 10-kW photovoltaic panel installation on the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Clinic (1030 The Alameda).
  • A 120-kW solar thermal installation on the roof of Benson Memorial Center, used to heat the building and provide hot water for cooking (Read a recent article by the Silicon Valley Business Journal).
  • Using Serious Energy's energy management system to centrally monitor and control campus utilities. (Watt has worked with this company since it was Valence Energy, formed by former SCU students).
  • Testing a new high-efficiency lighting system that can be programmed fixture-by-fixture (great for large shared-office spaces and conference rooms where one switch might currently control the whole space). This new system could potentially be controlled remotely, via an iPad or iPhone!

Campus community response
Watt is thankful for the continued support of the University in the Utilities Department's commitment to reduce energy. He says garnering support from faculty, staff, and students can be a challenging part of his job. "Saving energy has an impact on the entire campus community and requires getting the community at large to buy into our efforts," Watt said. With a lot of one-on-one chats with fellow employees and community education, Watt says the campus is buying into the energy saving efforts. "By and large, people accept (energy reduction), there's just a little bit of lag." He sometimes receives complaints about building temperature settings or lighting. Sometimes those complaints are due to mechanical issues, which his team fixes as soon as possible. Other times, it's just reluctance to change; which is why Watt and his team at Facilities lead by example. "Talking the talk is one thing; walking the walk is another," Watt said. The Facilities building operates in the same environment settings as the rest of SCU's buildings, and is often the guinea pig building for testing new systems, technologies, or set points.

While Watt claims his last name had nothing to do with spurring him into a career dealing with energy on a daily basis, he did mention that the person in charge of campus telephones back in 1986 had the last name 'Bell'. Perhaps when the Office of Sustainability hires new Sustainability Interns this spring, applicants with the last name 'Green' might have an edge on the competition.

By Emily Orbanek, 11, Sustainability Intern.

Tags: Buildings and Grounds, Campus Operations, Climate Neutrality, Commitments and Policies, Energy, Profiles



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