Facilities Services Rises to Energy Challenges

By Mika Ono

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) experienced its first rolling blackout this week, when a 90-minute power outage turned out the lights on Tuesday afternoon at the institute's Sorrento Valley facility. This rolling blackout followed a general power outage one evening the previous week, caused by unrelated technical difficulties on the grid.

“On the whole, we were well prepared for both events,” says Clyde Brown, director of Facilities Services. "The backup generators and transfer switches ran flawlessly. And the operators showed they could rise to a challenge."

The mission of Facilities Services—whose 44 staff members include machinists, HVAC technicians, electricians, plumbers, welders, painters, pipe fitters, autoclave experts, metal fabricators, and locksmiths—is to keep TSRI's buildings and utilities running. But, while maintenance of the physical plant has continued uninterrupted, energy has been at the top of the list of the department's concerns.

Facilities Services staff have been preparing for power outages by talking through their response and looking for ways to improve their performance. During the recent outages, operators successfully patrolled the affected buildings, responded to problems, monitored the back-up generators, turned off certain kinds of equipment, and manually opened automatic garage doors. A new energy hotline, at x4-SEMP(RA) or x4-7367 (or from off campus (858) 784-SEMP(RA)) was also put to use, offering recorded information on the power situation to those who called.

To minimize the need for rolling blackouts and to contain the institute's soaring energy costs, Facilities Services has also made a concerted effort in energy conservation. Manager Mariano Albano, who was recently put in charge of energy management, uses his own office as a showcase of how the institute can continue to find new ways to conserve.

"Look at this room," Albano says. "It looks bright, right? But I've removed four out of six of the fluorescent bulbs in the overhead light." He takes a light meter from its case. The display reads 32.5 foot candles. "Even using two thirds fewer bulbs, my office is brighter than the Society of Illumination Engineers' recommendation for office space illumination."

Albano sees lighting—which constitutes roughly 30 percent of the institute's energy use—as one of the most promising areas in which to conserve without compromising the comfort of TSRI scientists, staff, and students. And turning off lights also significantly reduces cooling costs. Facilities Services has turned off cosmetic lighting, for example on the sides of the buildings and on artwork, and Albano continues to review the illumination of interior spaces across campus.

Facilities Services is also attentive to other ways of decreasing energy consumption by upgrading the buildings' equipment, for example installing high-efficiency motors, variable-frequency drives, and smaller package units of larger machines.

So far, TSRI's energy use is down six to 30 percent from last year, depending on the building. "Newer buildings tend to be more energy-efficient," Brown notes. "There is less room for improvement."

Albano and Brown emphasize that everyone can help save energy at TSRI. Their top five energy conservation tips are:

  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room;
  • Bump thermostats up in the summer to reduce cooling costs;
  • Consider using a fan instead of air conditioning if you feel warm;
  • Use cold water whenever possible;
  • Close doors to reduce air infiltration from the outside.

"If everyone cooperates, we can continue to reduce energy use on campus," Albano says. "We all need to work together."



Clyde Brown, director of Facilities Services, emphasizes everyone on campus can help save energy.







Manager Mariano Albano finds new ways to conserve energy by monitoring the illumination of spaces across campus.







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