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Phil Cotharin, temperature controls mechanic/energy management specialist, examines a variable frequency drive that controls the neighboring air handling unit in the Exley Science Center. The system significantly reduces energy waste.
Posted 03.31.05

Energy Specialist Always on Lookout for Ways to Cut Energy Usage

Use less. Get more.

That’s how Phil Cotharin, temperature controls mechanic/energy management specialist, is helping Wesleyan save thousands a year by slashing energy usage. In an agreement finalized February 17, Connecticut Light & Power Company has agreed to pay Wesleyan a $27,450 incentive for keeping energy usage down.

“When Wesleyan uses less energy, CLPC can produce less energy, and it won’t have to build another power plant to service the community,” Cotharin says from his office, located in the basement of the Exley Science Center.

Cotharin started researching ways to lower energy cost last year by running an energy audit on the east side of Olin Memorial Library. The audit measured kilowatts used by a single air handling unit, which moves and conditions the air in the building.

“What I found is that the unit was running at 80 percent of its efficiency 24 hours a day,” Cotharin says. “So I figured, after midnight, why don’t we bring it down to 40 percent and have it running back at 80 percent at 7 in the morning.”

This formula conserves energy, but has little effect on the library’s temperature.

The simple idea has opened up many complex energy studies campus-wide. Cotharin is now devoting his career to finding ways to cut energy costs in all campus facilities.

“It is feasible to say that, in five years, Wesleyan could save half-a-million dollars a year if we apply this formula to all buildings,” Cotharin says. “It’s my goal and I don’t see why this is not obtainable.”

The numbers are already speaking for themselves. Cotharin discovered that the Exley Science Center will save $21,478 a year on its electric bill by running air units 1,584 fewer hours a year. Normally, the 13 air handling units would run 24 hours a day.

“Why should we run these things at a full work load when people aren’t inside, using the building,” Cotharin says. “Any piece of electrical equipment needs to be questioned. Do I need to leave that on or can I shut it off. It will all add up in the end.”

Cotharin encourages the installations of high-tech variable frequency drives (VFDs), which control air handling units by varying electric motor speed, significantly reducing energy waste. Most of Wesleyan’s building are equipped with pneumatic motor driven systems, set to operate at full speed, 24 hours a day. 

So far, Hall-Atwater, the Science Library, the Center for Fine Arts’ dance studios, Cinema Archives, Fisk Hall, the Center for Film Studies and the Freeman Athletic Center are heated and cooled with VDF systems.

Although these controls are pricey, they generate tangible benefits quickly. The Science Center’s units will pay for themselves in savings within the next three years.

“This one just celebrated its one month birthday,” Cotharin says, patting the side of a new unit in the basement of the science center. “This is state-of-the-art energy management.”

Cotharin and other employees of the Physical Plant can access climate control data of any building on campus 24 hours a day by computer. An energy-control program features schematics of every floor of every building, and can pin-point temperatures of any room at any time.

“Say I get a call from Hall-Atwater and they say room 140 is too hot, so I just look on here,” Cotharin says, clicking on a floor plan of Hall-Atwater. “I see that it is 76 degrees and the heating vent’s valve is closed, so I know there is a problem there. The data gathering information of this program is phenomenal. It’s just an invaluable piece of equipment.”

Cotharin and Gene Payne, heating and ventilation air conditioning utility mechanic, say all Wesleyan employees and students can do their part to conserve energy. By simply setting a building’s summer temperature at 76 degrees rather than 74 degrees on a 90-degree summer day, energy use is significantly reduced.

“You come here and work, but don’t tend to think about these things,” Payne says.

Cotharin and Payne are big supporters of the new Fauver Field Residence Complex, due to open in Fall 2005. Students currently housed in the approximately 140 wood-framed homes near campus are wasting the most energy.

“Most of these students are here to get an education and don’t think about things like conserving energy, and they won’t until they’re paying the bills out of their back pocket,” Payne says. “Wesleyan has such a diverse group of people from all different places and they’re not accustomed to New England climates, and they’ll turn their heat up to 76 or higher all winter. What a waste of energy.”

Cotharin says everyone on campus should be most aware of their energy usage during August and September when Wesleyan reaches its peak kilowatt demand. CLPC will issue a demand charge for this usage, in addition to a monthly service charge and kilowatt-per-hour energy charge.

“If we have a kilowatt demand level of 3.1 and we get a heat wave and everyone turns on their air conditioning and everything is sucking energy, our demand level might go up to 3.7 and we’ll get very high bills,” Cotharin says. “The whole target of my job is to keep us from going above that number and keeping Wesleyan’s total kilowatt usage down.”

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor

Ways to Save

Phil Cotharin, temperature controls mechanic/energy management specialist, advises Wesleyan students and employees to save energy where they can. Students and employees can contact Physical Plant at 685-3400 with any energy-saving suggestions, or to report any energy-wasting appliances (i.e. leaks or running toilets). “We’re not working or living in these places, so if we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it,” Cotharin says.

Here are some of Cotharin’s suggestions:

Employees 

Turn off lights when out of the office

Turn off computer monitors and shut down laptops

Use less hot water

Don’t use electric fans or space heaters

Shut coolers off during weekends and breaks

Set a reasonable work environment temperature

Dress warmer or cooler to rely less on heating and air conditioning

Turn fume hoods off in science center when not in use

Students

Turn of lights

Install energy efficient light bulbs

Use electrical timers that shut lights off automatically

Keep windows shut and locked during cold months

Install water-saving shower heads in homes

Report any dripping faucets or running toilets

Turn off refrigerators and coolers during breaks

Have housemates agree on reasonable temperature