Students conducting energy audit for Presidents Climate Commitment

For the next several weeks, a group of Sweet Briar College students will conduct an energy audit of the campus for the Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge to become climate neutral signed in 2007 by Sweet Briar President Elisabeth Muhlenfeld.

Their goal is to find ways the College can be more energy efficient and reduce its carbon footprint.

In its second week, the project has already made a lasting impression, if only on the four students who are working on it. “I’m never going to walk through a door the same way again,” Aimee Savage ’10, an engineering science major from Virginia Beach, Va., said.

Classmate Sara Sheppard ’10, an engineering management major who also hails from Virginia Beach, agreed. “I think it’s interesting, all the things that you learn,” she said. “It’s interesting, walking into buildings now and being like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Do you see the weather stripping on this door? It’s horrible. They need to replace this.’ ”

Under the supervision of assistant professor of engineering Dorsa Sanadgol, the students — Savage, Sheppard, MaryAnne Haslow-Hall ’11 and Kelly Mauri ’10 — will do a preliminary assessment of 20 campus buildings. Based on heat-load analysis, they will whittle that number down to four or five buildings.

Those four or five structures will be subjected to in-depth analysis using a software program called eQUEST, which is an acronym for electronic QUick Energy Simulation Tool.

When their research is complete, the students will make recommendations to the College. They also will prepare a brochure detailing their findings and an interactive display board.

The display board will have switches on it that simulate certain situations, such as adding double-pane windows to a building, and the effect these changes have on energy consumption.

In addition, the students will present their findings at the annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of Undergraduate Scholarship to be held at Sweet Briar in October.

Prior to the preliminary assessment, however, the students spent a couple of weeks learning about different building materials — walls, roofs, doors and windows — and how to conduct the audit.

They also took field trips to Sweet Briar’s powerhouse, Lowe’s and local engineering firm Wiley & Wilson, who is supporting the project and training the students on the eQUEST software.

One day, while organizing the blueprint room at physical plant headquarters, the students made an unexpected discovery — World War I posters stashed among the blueprints. The posters, which made statements about rationing and supporting the troops, were donated to the College’s library.

For their work on the energy audit, the students will receive salaries paid by the president’s office and internship credit. Their resumes also will benefit from the experience. At a recent Sweet Briar board meeting, Savage heard as much from a College alumna.

“I actually talked to an alum … who used to do energy auditing with a consulting firm that she used to work with,” Savage said. “She said that it’s a really good thing to have on your resume as an engineer, and if you’re really interested in it, it’s a huge job market right now.”

Sheppard said her uncle, who owns a chemical engineering company, “was so excited when he heard I was doing this.”

An environmental studies and sociology major surrounded by engineering majors, Mauri is the odd woman out. During the academic year, she lives on the College’s Eco-Floor. She got involved in the energy audit on the advice of sociology professor and Eco-Floor sponsor Debbie Kasper.

“When I said I was interested, I really wanted to learn ways that the Eco-Floor can help reduce energy, so I’m excited to take all my findings back and incorporate them onto the floor,” Mauri said.

The Fairfield, Conn., resident said her main goal is “spreading awareness,” not only about what the College can do about its carbon footprint, but what students can do individually.

“I know it’s really hard while living at college, because you really don’t have any control over the heating and cooling, but smaller ways, like driving your car less or unplugging your appliances,” she said. “Things like that.”