Campus groups promote sustainability

Oakland University has multiple campus groups which take steps to support the campus’ sustainability. There is a Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) at OU that has a mission of reducing energy use by 40% in the Southeast Michigan tri-county region. 

“My main focus, personally, is conservation,” Chris Kobus, director of engineering and energy education said. “I’m not big into just switching energy sources, I’m big into reducing energy usage, period.”

CERC is a group of faculty and students that have multiple clean energy research, development and educational activities within the group. They work by developing projects that contain biomass, solar and wind energy to achieve their mission of a clean energy future.

In 2019, the annual cost of energy was $1.9 million and the cost so far in 2020 is $2 million. Students and community members should be aware of how to begin to reduce the energy usage around campus.

“Our goal is to have the most current and accurate information available for students,” Operations Analyst Sean Dillon said. We would like to share tips for reducing energy usage so students feel more empowered.” 

According to Dillon, the goal for energy usage around campus is “net zero,” which means to have no energy consumption. The university has set incremental goals that work with the cost associated with energy. 

They plan to change buildings with high energy usage and make changes to the lighting or insulation in them, according to Dillon.

OU has already started moving toward more environmentally friendly buildings. The Human Health Building (HHB) was the first green building. It uses a geothermal heat pump and contains a cooling system powered by a solar thermal energy system, with the goal in mind of reducing the carbon emission and energy consumption and output on campus. 

On OU’s sustainability page, this solar thermal project is the largest in the U.S. It uses a variable refrigerant flow heat pump. The whole HHB project was given a $2.75M U.S. Department of Energy grant to help fund the process and make OU a greener school.

In the article Health & Environmental Benefits of Solar Energy, they discuss how solar power can benefit the environment. 

“By going solar, you can reduce demand for fossil fuels, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and shrink your carbon footprint,” the article said.

Reducing the amount of energy people use on a daily basis on campus and in homes will mean a need for fewer power plants needed in Michigan.

“The only clean energy, the 100% clean energy, there ever has been or ever will be, is the energy you never used,” Kobus said.

OU also received a grant from DTE in Detroit to do an LED project around campus in 2012. The grant allowed for the testing of street lights around Meadow Brook Rd. and the parking lots to be changed to more energy efficient LED lights. 

Since that project, OU has reported the positive effects of the testing of the new lights. Now OU changed to LED lights in the use of parking lots.

“Going to LED lights that used to be metal halide lights all over campus … that takes the energy signature down quite a bit,” Kobus said. “The street lights and parking lights are on whether anybody’s in the parking lot or not.”

Another group that promotes sustainability is the Faculty Staff Student Alliance for Climate and Environment (FSSACE). They talk about environmental issues and sustainability on campus and acts toward a greener university.

“OU is kind of behind the times on sustainability issues, in terms of a sustainability plan, doing various initiatives. We haven’t implemented a lot of sustainability initiatives on campus,” Mozhgon Rajaee, assistant professor in public health said. “We’ve got to do something, so let’s start brainstorming and coming together on how to do it.” 

The meetings for the group help with educating about the problems that are happening on campus and in the community. They have presenters come in and discuss issues that can be improved and plan out possible solutions to the problems. 

“I think the university itself, Oakland University, is now making sustainability a centerpiece of what it’s wanting to in terms of its reimagining OU initiative,” Lily Mendoza, professor of communication said.

Anyone that is interested in promoting sustainability can join the CERC by emailing Kobus at @[email protected] and to join  FSSACE, email Rajaee at [email protected].