UConn Professor, Students Help Connecticut Towns Make Smart Energy Choices with

Amy Thompson is always teaching, even when she’s not in the classroom.

As a professor-in-residence at UConn in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, she helps to guide students through the complex, interdisciplinary field of systems engineering and engineering management.

But a large part of her work at UConn is educating students in a completely different way – and, at the same time, educating Connecticut municipal leaders, town managers, and school administrators on how readily available technologies can help guide and improve energy efficiency and sustainability efforts within their towns.

“I always admire the research and the methods that are created here at UConn,” Thompson says. “When I’m not teaching, the thing I’m really interested in doing is getting those advanced technologies and advanced methods into the hands of people more quickly, so that they can make an impact. What you don’t want is a barrier to that, and I feel like our program is an example of technology transfer and knowledge transfer. It’s a great way to support Connecticut.”

Thompson came to UConn in 2017, and brought with her a growing program she created called SmartBuildings CT. Supported by Energize CT – the state’s energy efficiency fund, which is administered by the public utility companies Eversource and Avangrid – SmartBuildings CT primarily works directly with towns to help benchmark energy usage in public buildings.

“Our program is really a technical support, education, and training program specifically to support communities and school districts in Connecticut,” Thompson explains. “We create an energy portfolio for each of the towns and each of the public school districts in Connecticut.”

Building Portfolios for Success

In a residence or small business, it’s easier to see your energy costs – you get an electric bill, maybe a home heating oil or gas bill, and possibly a report from a solar or alternative energy system.

But for municipalities and school districts, energy usage can be much more difficult to quantify and track. There’s the town hall or office building, all the school buildings, public works buildings, police and fire stations, libraries, recreational facilities, and community centers – all with their own electric service and other energy usage factors, all using varying amounts and types of energy depending on their design,  the month of the year, and even the time of day.

To date, SmartBuildings CT has worked with more than 70 towns, school districts, and other agencies. More than 2,885 buildings in the state have been benchmarked through the program.

For local officials, a municipality’s energy-use landscape can get really complicated really quickly. Tracking where and how much energy is used can be labor intensive, and it’s often challenging to know how to best invest limited tax and grant dollars to improve energy efficiency in town facilities.

“If you only have one building and you have one electric and one gas meter, an energy portfolio is still helpful, because you can track your energy over time,” Thompson says. “But you can imagine for a lot of the towns that have twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty buildings, it can really help them organize and understand the energy usage and cost for their organization.”

Through the federal Energy Star program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a free tool called Portfolio Manager, which allows anyone to measure and analyze patterns of energy consumption.

Buildings benchmarked through Portfolio Manager also receive an Energy Star score that compares their performance to similar buildings across the country.

The data provided by Portfolio Manager can help target underperforming buildings that might be in need of energy improvements – telling towns where to invest resources and attention to get the best bang for their buck – as well as helping to identify best practices from efficient buildings that can be replicated in other facilities.

Buildings that earn an Energy Star score of 75 or greater through Portfolio Manager may also be eligible for Energy Star certification. Energy Star-certified office buildings, on average, use 35 percent less energy, generate 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and cost $0.54 less per square foot to operate.

But setting up an energy portfolio can be an intensive process. Utility accounts need to be linked. Things like oil and propane…

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