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Courtesy of John Syme

- Courtesy of John Syme
Davidson’s central campus buildings, like Watson Science Building, are computer-controlled for optimum peak and non-peak usage, which can figure in to the rates Duke Energy charges the college for electricity.

Davidson's unsung sustainability

By John Syme

Posted: Thursday, May. 19, 2011

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

We just had our annual departmental retreat.

I have softened on these things over the years. Am I mellowing? Corporate retreats have not always been known to elicit cheers of happy anticipation from moi. I have been known to utter curmudgeonly disparagement (“*%$#@!”) going in, and sometimes unwelcome commentary (“You missed a spot!”) coming out. Still, most of the time during the middle part, I have a good time and learn a lot. Go figure. Anyway, the retreat we just had was especially good: pithy, solid, entertaining, useful, tight, good food, bonus afternoon off on the second day. Woot!

A highlight was guest presenter David Holthouser, Davidson’s director of facilities management. A deadpan cutup and consummate professional with the best facilities staff I’ve ever known anywhere, David made us laugh. He made us laugh at bar graphs of comparative energy usage arranged by technological efficiency capacities, no less. Mad skillz, Holthouser.

Still, a lot of Davidson’s work in the area of sustainability is left unsung, says he. Well that’s not right, says I. Let’s sing it! So herewith, a few tidbits of interest, presented with humility:

--While devils from a school nearby that shall remain nameless tout their recent elimination of coal-burning boilers on campus, it’s been so long that Davidson switched to cleaner natural gas (1962) that we forget it’s a point anymore. Just sayin’. Further, the new, computerized natural gas boiler put in last year produces exactly as much steam as we need at a given time, no more, no less.

--The centralized, computerized chiller plant lines we installed via trenches as big as a Chevrolet dug in the lawn in 2000 ultimately cut AC electric energy use in half and got rid of the decentralized “noisemakers” that were scattered about our fair campus.

--LEED Silver environmental certification for all new buildings at Davidson is not just à la mode, it’s de rigueur. The plaques take longer than the building sometimes, but we get them up there!

--Watson Science Building, which necessarily exhausts more air than most, has a ceramic energy recovery wheel in its HVAC to capture heat from science-y air going out of the labs and transfer it to fresh air going in.

--Duke Energy Co. and Davidson College have been working together for more than a year on “smart grid” studies with nationwide implications. One reason Duke wanted to work with Davidson? Holthouser et al already had much pertinent smart-grid equipment, software, and know-how up and running on our modest, humble scale.

--Speaking of humble, Davidson snagged a Duke Energy 2010 Power Partner of the Year Award, and Duke Energy has featured Holthouser on its website in numerous venues alongside other national experts. More to come on this important developing work as the planet warms.

Meanwhile, what if we were each to think of one thing to do for one day to save a little energy, to shorten our carbon footprint a millimeter? Like, right now, I’m going to turn off this computer. See you next time!

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