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Energy Paradigms

By Dennis Bohlayer

As a young engineer, I was exposed to a training film on creativity and “thinking outside the box.”  The film introduced the word “paradigm” in the context of how an individual uses his set of experiences, beliefs and values in his perception of how things should be.  The illustration used was the bicycle seat.

At that time, I only knew of one style of bicycle seat—the one piece, full butt-sized version, pictured below, whose design followed that of horse saddles.  This was my paradigm as to how all bicycle seats should look like.  Then the film went on to show a different version of the bicycle seat similar to that shown below: a bicycle seat consisting of two separate pieces, each supporting a single buttock.  Wow, I thought.  Why not?  In fact, the “improved” version made a lot more sense.  And so, I had just experienced a paradigm shift. 

The "classic" bicycle seat (left) and "improved" bicycle seat (right)

We all have our own individual paradigms; we just aren’t cognitively aware of them. 

Likewise, we associate with our job responsibilities here at the university with certain paradigms as to how things should be.  But is it possible that these preconceptions are quite limiting, perhaps formed by our knowledge and experiences of long ago, and need to be challenged?  Are we open to the thought that things don’t always have to remain the same in terms of policies, standards, and the like?  Are paradigm shifts in our work environment possible? 

Consider our campus energy use.  With our real-time electrical metering capability, we have the means to observe our instantaneous electrical demand over time.  Shown below is a typical trend graph of our electrical demand over eight days with its customary pattern of wave crests and troughs. 

Campus Electrical Demand Trend Graph

Note how the weekend days of Saturday and Sunday stand out with their lower electrical demands.  While the crest of the wave (which represents our maximum demand for that particular day) is of interest, it is also the troughs that occur in the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. timeframe that also deserve our attention.  Why are these troughs so high in the wee hours of the morning?  What is happening at that time of the night that keeps our demand so high?

Well, there are the obvious reasons:  student housing, exterior lighting, housekeeping activities, refrigeration, heating and air conditioning systems, etc.  But if we start digging deeper to understand this usage we may encounter some interesting uses, abuses and misuses, and find some opportunities to reduce energy consumption.

One such opportunity is lighting.  Just a few months ago, we replaced the lighting in our parking garages with much more efficient LED lighting, practicing good energy stewardship.  Each fixture has an occupancy sensor capability that when detecting motion raises the light level from low to high for fifteen minutes before returning back to low again. 

What if the “low” was really “off” so that the parking garages would be dark (and at their most energy conservative state) unless activated by someone or something in motion?  Wouldn’t this make sense?  I think it does…..but I also expect that there are others out there that have their own paradigm which has an opposing view. 

Another example is emergency lighting.  Years ago, it was the practice to separate out certain lighting fixtures as emergency lights wired to a separate emergency power circuit.  These lights could not be turned off at a local switch and hence were “always on.” Recently, a new product emerged, named a Generator Transfer Device (or GTD), that can be installed locally in the light fixture itself that will perform this switching function.  With this device, light fixtures connected to emergency power circuits can actually stay off during unoccupied non-emergency periods.  With the thousands of emergency lights across the campus and their long hours of run-time, a significant saving opportunity exists.  But implementation will only happen if others accepted a paradigm shift with respect to emergency lighting not being always on.

What do you think? I welcome your opinion in the comments section.

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