By Jasmine Blennau and Chris Woods
Located between Circle Road and the Simons Center is a field of mud, a collection of strange-looking offices and a building that emits smoke. This area is dedicated to the Office of Sustainability’s Facilities and Services division, tasked with providing Stony Brook University with reliable power, installing sustainable technologies and initiatives and monitoring the campus’s consumption of energy. James O’Connor, the director of Sustainability & Transportation Operations, oversees this effort, making sure different divisions work together in this goal.
O’Connor said one of the most important tools for campus energy is the cogeneration facility, which provides the majority of energy consumed on campus. The “big white elephant,” as O’Connor refers to it as, powers a generator by spinning natural gas through a turbine.
The plant is capable of producing approximately 45 megawatts of electricity, and according to O’Connor, that is a relatively clean energy source the university is proud of – the cogeneration facility is one of the only facilities of its kind in the country.
“When you take a look at a map on Google during Hurricane Sandy, Stony Brook University was one of the few lights that are on,” O’Connor said. “You have to remember we have a tertiary medical facility on campus–one of the main services we offer to the entire island–so having reliable power is important.”
The Sustainability Office is also steeped in a never-ending battle over solar power implementation on campus. Days after Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute developed a world record-breaking solar panel of 44.7 percent efficiency, O’Connor lamented that while students appreciate solar power, the constant upgrades and multiple panel types make the field especially competitive.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating as an institution; you can buy a system that sometimes is a dinosaur by the time it’s installed,” he said. “It’s not like buying a car every year–it’s actually worse than that, it’s quarterly.”
O’Connor’s office additionally monitors buildings on campus to ensure they are specifically designed to meet the requirements of the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Ratings System, which certifies that buildings are mindful of sustainability features like water, materials, air and energy efficiencies. Examples of the LEED-accredited buildings on campus are West Side Dining and Frey Hall.
Frey Hall was “totally gutted, and ultimately started anew” O’Connor said, a process that took almost two years. He also mentioned that if sustainability features and LEED requirements were to be worked into large buildings on campus like the Melville Library or the Student Activities Center, the work would have to be done in small sections that would not limit the building’s usage for long periods of time.
Some efforts have already been made in these buildings, O’Connor said, such as Xlerator electric hand dryers in the bathrooms to reduce paper towel usage and water bottle filling stations to save plastic bottles.
The installation of meters measuring consumption in all of the 200-plus buildings on campus is the Office of Sustainability’s latest large-scale project. O’Connor said the idea driving this initiative is that if the energy and resource usage of every building is more easily made available, the campus community might be more conscious of how to conserve resources. He showed interest in having a residence hall-wide conservation competition in the future as an effort to educate residents on sustainable practices.
Stony Brook’s long term goal, a result of the university’s involvement in The American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, is to become carbon neutral, meaning the university would leave a zero net carbon footprint. The plan is to decrease carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020, compared to data from 2008, and ultimately to have a zero net carbon footprint by 2050.
The Presidents’ Climate Commitment website described this initiative’s mission as “as high-visibility effort to address global climate disruption … to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from specified campus operations, and to promote the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate.”
Campus Energy Manager Thomas Lanzilotta added that if the Sustainability department were to receive a sizable donation, he would “choose obviously energy efficiency projects,” continuing to say he “would use that money for the projects, have the projects pay themselves back, and reuse that money for other projects … it would be a revolving door.”
Both Lanzilotta and O’Connor remain dedicated to working behind the scenes of all projects and implementations that go on regarding energy, sustainability and transportation.
Some students at Stony Brook are particularly interested in eco-friendly projects. Environmental Club president Sheri Bossong said she thinks the administration is “doing a great job to decrease our energy consumption.”