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Using Campus Energy System Data to Save Energy and Provide Students with Real-world Learning Experiences

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ECCD Technical Session

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Lynn Wade Northern Arizona University Orcid 16x16

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Jennifer has been teaching thermal fluid topics and engineering design as a Lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering department at Northern Arizona University since 2015. Prior to this, she spent two years in a research faculty role continuing earlier work on carbon capture technologies. She spent four years as a research/product development engineer for BASF where she was developing catalytic converter and refining catalyst technologies.

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Karin E. Wadsack Northern Arizona University School of Earth & Sustainability

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Benjamin L. Ruddell Northern Arizona University


Brent A. Nelson Northern Arizona University

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Dr. Nelson’s expertise spans a variety of topics, including energy systems analysis, energy policy, energy transport, bioengineering, and materials science. He completed his PhD performing interdisciplinary research at the intersection of thermal transport, materials science, and nanofabrication, and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in engineering design education with the National Academy of Engineering CASEE program. He spent 2014-2016 away from NAU on sabbatical, working as a policy fellow at the US Department of Energy in the Building Technologies Office, where he managed multiple international research programs and provided strategic analysis to guide R&D strategy. He also has an ongoing collaborative appointment with the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

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A variety of engineering classes teach engineering students how to analyze thermodynamic systems or even provide students with training on simplified lab models of real systems. However, relatively few courses provide students with exposure to actual thermodynamic systems in operation. Additionally, campuses and large building complexes often have an abundance of operational HVAC systems and energy usage data, but comparatively few resources to analyze and monitor their performance. Recognizing this need and opportunity, we worked with the facilities department at our institution to use the campus energy operations as a source for student projects in multiple departments and at both undergraduate and graduate levels. These projects included monitoring HVAC operations to identify system faults, interpreting HVAC control logic to identify zero-cost energy savings, quantifying the potential benefit of energy efficiency retrofits in campus buildings, using campus energy load profiles to design alternative power solutions, and analyzing multiple data sets to determine strategies for reducing peak electricity demand.

These projects gave students a deeper understanding of thermodynamic systems, going beyond the schematics they learn in textbooks and homework problems, while also teaching them about the practical operational and engineering challenges associated with real-world energy-consuming devices. Simultaneously, the identification of faults and energy efficiency opportunities enabled significant energy savings opportunities for the university. Such educational strategies can extend to almost any university, and can embed within existing courses or be developed for specific building science or informatics courses. These projects can engage students from a variety of disciplines, including computer science, mechanical engineering, and sustainability-focused programs, and they create opportunities for interdisciplinary problem solving.

Wade, J. L., & Wadsack, K. E., & Ruddell, B. L., & Nelson, B. A. (2019, June), Using Campus Energy System Data to Save Energy and Provide Students with Real-world Learning Experiences Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33496

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