Inside Rensselaer
* Green@Rensselaer: Constructing a Sustainable Campus
ECAV features a solar shading screen to control glare and heat from the western sun exposure.
Green@Rensselaer: Constructing a Sustainable Campus
Leaders at Rensselaer are pairing engineering smarts with old-fashioned common sense to trim energy costs and reduce the carbon footprint of the university’s historic Troy campus.

From the innovative design of new buildings to the retro-commissioning of century-old Institute landmarks, Rensselaer has embraced sustainability as a way of life.

“The physical transformation of Rensselaer over the past decade — particularly in the last five years — is striking and undeniable,” said Claude Rounds, vice president for administration. “But even with the addition of all of these new facilities, we have reduced our overall energy and water consumption per square-foot. In terms of energy efficiency and sustainability, Rensselaer is leaner and greener than ever before.”

The newest addition to the Troy campus is the East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV). The most extensive athletic construction project in Rensselaer history, ECAV is also among the most energy-efficient facilities of its kind. In addition to optimized environmental conditioning systems and a strong focus on water efficiency for both irrigation-free landscaping and waste water, ECAV has a 50-kilowatt photovoltaic array installed on the roof. These solar panels convert sunlight into electricity that supports the refrigeration system that makes the ice for the nearby Houston Field House hockey rink.

The innovative design for the ECAV stadium employs a solar shading screen to control glare and heat from the western sun exposure. ECAV is expected to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating of silver.

Similarly, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) has achieved a LEED rating of silver. Rounds said the facility outperforms many of the LEED requirements and standards. Some of the sustainable features built into EMPAC include energy-efficient lighting, efficient water usage, and an air handling system that uses reheat coils and variable speed drives. Energy use at EMPAC is more than 20 percent below the average baseline energy use of similar-sized buildings.

The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, Rounds said, is a triumph of sustainable engineering. The building’s large interior atrium is naturally conditioned, without the need for cooling or heating. Environmental systems are used on the very hottest and coldest days of the year, Rounds said, but 95 percent of the time, Rensselaer is expending literally no energy to heat or cool the atrium.

For the many older buildings on campus, Rensselaer employs the strategy of retro-commissioning. This regime of constant improvement entails making sure the individual environmental and operational systems of each building are performing optimally as possible, given the restraints of the hardware. It is neither efficient nor cost-effective to simply gut a building’s existing system and replace it, Rounds said.

“You really have to take each building on a case-by-case basis, and be as smart as you can based on the building’s needs and function,” Rounds said. The Institute purchases five million kilowatt-hours of wind-generated electricity every year to help power the campus, and over the past five years has received
$1.6 million in state and federal energy grants.

Rounds said the thread tying together all of the Institute’s green efforts is the Student Sustainability Task Force. The student-led organization has successfully endeavored over the past few years to integrate sustainability into all aspects of campus life, including education, research, operations and culture. Many of these efforts include collaborations with Round’s group, and range from monitoring the real-time energy usage of different campus facilities, to efficiency programs, composting, and recycling.

“We now have a very large, very active group of students who are doing a number of important sustainability projects,” Rounds said. “The task force has generated a valuable inventory of student-led sustainability pilot programs and other opportunities. These students paved the way to the most remarkable and substantial move forward in sustainability that this campus has ever witnessed.

“In addition to all of the good reasons for weaving sustainability into every nook and cranny of Rensselaer, there is a very real impact on the order of millions of dollars that we realize from these green efforts,” Rounds said. “And the more we save, the more we can reinvest in our students, operations, and educational mission.”

For more stories on topics related to sustainability, energy, and the environment, visit
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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 11, June 18, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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