At 120,000 square feet, it’s fair to say that the Charles B. Wang Center isn’t a small building. Now, imagine 15 Wang Centers next to each other.
You now have an accurate image of Stony Brook’s geographical expansion over the past decade. And, as you can also imagine, the Stony Brook behemoth’s growth is tied to its hunger for energy. On April 6, Amy Provenzano, Stony Brook’s executive director of environmental stewardship, presented the audience in Javits 103 with a glimpse into the university’s energy realities and conservation efforts.
Stony Brook spent $53 million last fiscal year on utilities (electricity, gas, water and the like), Provenzano said, pointing out that the figure translated to over $1 million in weekly expenditures for the main campus, Research and Development Park and Southampton campus. But despite these jarring numbers, since 2001, the university’s net utility bill has increased at a significantly slower rate than the cost of electricity—Stony Brook’s largest utility expense.
“To realize the drop in energy consumption, the campus engaged, in 2002, in comprehensive energy audits,” Provenzano said. “We hired a company to look at every single building on campus and to come up with strategies for energy conservation.”
The company came up with $95 million worth of projects for the university to consider, Provenzano said. As a result, Stony Brook invested $25 million in ventilation, variable-frequency drives—which throttle-down electric motors when there is less demand— and air/water cooling systems. Provenzano attested to an annual savings of $6 million in energy consumption once the projects had been implemented. More recently, hot water systems are being insulated against thermal loss and lighting is being made more efficient, Provenzano said.
The West Campus power plant—where electricity is generated by a contractor and sold to the university at a discount—has been a staple of Stony Brook’s conservation efforts. There, a natural gas turbine generates electricity and, as a by-product, steam.
“That steam comes down and is used on-campus to operate steam-driven chillers as well as cascade heaters which provide most of the heating and hot water to the campus,” Provenzano said. In other power plants, steam often goes to waste, said geology professor Gilbert Hanson.
Following the lecture, Provenzano offered her views on Japan’s nuclear crisis. Asked about nuclear energy’s foreseeable role in the United States, Provenzano said that the containment failure at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant was “unfortunate for the future of nuclear energy. It’s a safe, reliable source of energy.” Her words contrast starkly with those of Ralph Nader, who harshly criticized nuclear energy in a recent visit to Stony Brook, citing the “radioactive violence” befalling Japan’s communities.
But Provenzano said that a sudden aversion to nuclear energy was “a natural reaction to a disaster of this magnitude.” She said that Japan’s nuclear woes were owed more to a lack of preparation than to the dangers inherent in nuclear energy: “From an energy representative’s perspective, would you ever figure that you’d have an earthquake and tsunami that disable all backup measures?”