Energy Reduction Program in our Labs

In response to global environmental problems such as climate change, The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences has teamed with the Harvard Green Campus Initiative (www.greencampus.harvard.edu) to undertake a variety of activities to reduce energy consumption. This page highlights some of the current initiatives and provides background information on the challenges associated with making labs more energy efficient.
Contact Maura Leahy, coordinator of the Campus Energy Reduction Program, with any comments or questions about the material you find on these pages: maura_leahy@harvard.edu, 617-384-9604.

Laboratory Energy Use

Labs consume far more energy than other buildings per square foot. For instance, on Harvard's Cambridge campus labs make up approximately 25% of total building square footage but are responsible for 50% of the utility usage. The ten most energy-intensive FAS buildings are all laboratories, although not all of them belong to EPS.

You can review the most recent EPS/Hoffman utility usage data here (link to a pdf file of data, content not yet available).

One of the reasons labs are so energy intensive is that they are typically supplied with 4 - 15 air changes of outside air per hour. This outdoor air must be heated or cooled (conditioned) to levels acceptable to a lab's occupants, which in the Boston climate takes a significant amount of energy. In addition to having special heating and cooling needs, labs are full of equipment that require a great deal of electricity to function.

Climate change is a critical issue related to high energy consumption. The greenhouse gases released during fossil fuel combustion are warming the planet and causing troubling changes: increasingly acidic oceans, melting polar ice caps, and more frequent and severe natural disasters, to name just a few. Although scientists cannot predict the exact consequences, most are certain that climate change poses acute threats to our health and well being. More information about the science and policy surrounding climate change is available at http://www.greencampus.harvard.edu/cerp/climate.php.

Shut the Sash!

fume_hood The Trouble With Fume Hoods

Fume hoods use an enormous amount of energy. A typical fume hood in the United States that runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year uses 3.5 times more energy than the average house. Luckily, new hood models allow the opportunity for significant energy conservation. Shutting the sashes on these hoods reduces the amount of exhaust going through the hood, which means less air has to be conditioned and released into the room to replace it. Therefore, the responsibility for significant energy savings rests upon the hood users.

Shut the Sash Contest

To help people get in the habit of closing their sashes, a "Shut the Sash" contest was conducted in Naito Laboratory in the Fall of 2005. With the help of a sophisticated hood monitoring system, the exhaust was tracked from each hood to see which lab group decreased its hood exhaust the most over 5 weeks (compared to baseline data). The Kahne and Walker groups won with a 47% decrease from the baseline, and hood exhaust from the building as a whole went down 27%. If this improvement continues over the course of a year, it will save over $50,000 in utility costs!

Labs for the 21st Century

Labs21 (http://www.labs21century.gov/) is a federally funded program whose goal is to "encourage the development of sustainable, high-performance, and low-energy laboratories nationwide." They serve as an information clearinghouse, provide consultation to institutions of all kinds, and have developed Environmental Performance Criteria (http://labs21.lbl.gov/EPC/intro.htm) to guide high-performance lab planning and construction.

Energy Conservation Initiatives

What You Can Do These practices are very simple to implement:
  • Shut your fume hood sash.
  • Turn off equipment you're not using.
  • Turn off lights in empty rooms.
And of course, remind your colleagues to do the same!

Building-Scale Changes

Individual behavioral changes are important, as the fume hood contest results show, and structural changes are critical as well. Many projects are underway in EPS right now to improve energy efficiency. They include:

  • Putting occupancy sensors on lights in part of Hoffman Lab.
  • Setting back building temperatures and ventilation rates slightly at night.
  • Replacing "energy hog" light bulbs with efficient ones.
  • Experimenting with an efficient "low-flow" fume hood in one lab.
  • Facilities staff taking part in a new University-wide High Performance Labs Advisory Group.