Nov. 26, 2013

Student energy group saves Cornell $35,000

By replacing 61 incandescent light bulbs at Mann Library with CFL bulbs, Energy Corps, a student organization on campus helped the university save $600 over seven years. That was in spring 2012, when Energy Corps was founded by Sheila Garcia ’13, Mike Gardo ’14, Raksit Pattanapitoon and Jacob Reisch ’14.

Since then, Energy Corps has worked on 10 projects on campus that are expected to save $35,077 in energy and bulb-replacements this year –  $12,700 of that from avoided energy costs in the past fiscal year. This equates to $245,539 in savings over the next seven years.

Energy Corps was founded to combine business with sustainability. “We create cost-saving solutions. We eliminate one of the biggest reasons why people don't want to implement sustainable practices,” said Patrick Roeschel ’16, co-president.

A team of students from Energy Corps survey campus locations for possible electrical upgrades and submit a list of projects to its project management team. The team researches alternatives, contacts the facilities managers and puts together a report with the expected cost and savings of the proposed project.

“We’re learning so much every day, it can be scary. What are these numbers? How do we calculate them? The best thing about Energy Corps is that we have members who support and learn from each other,” said Maria Jiang ’17, incoming vice president. “We also refer to the sustainability office to make sure our numbers are accurate.” Then the proposal is forwarded to the Energy and Sustainability Office at Cornell, which approves and funds the projects.

“We run into some logistical issues like during the Statler project, the sockets didn't fit the light fixtures,” explained Jiang. “But we’re very lucky to have the support of the Energy and Sustainability Office and Facilities [Services]. They have a crucial role in our projects.”

Energy Corps’ current projects focus on LED and CFL lighting upgrades because they are easy to carry out and have large energy and cost savings. “We are researching the feasibility of implementing motion sensors, floor heaters and smart plugs across campus,” said Roeschel. “But we will need more capital for that.”

To raise funds for their projects, along with several other student organizations, Energy Corps advocated the idea of a Green Revolving Fund, in which part of the monetary saving from sustainability projects is used to further more sustainability projects, creating a self-sustaining model. After finalizing the operating structure, the group uses fundraising capital to launch and maintain the fund.

Energy Corps also recently launched a campaign on Indiegogo, an online fundraising platform. In one week, they have raised more than $1,000, 10 percent of their goal. This money will be used for energy auditing training, to purchase auditing equipment and to send team members to an energy efficiency conference. “We hope to make the seven-year savings total $1 Million in the next two years,” Roeschel said.

Another focus for the organization is to help students gain experience in energy and sustainability consulting and management. "Soon, many of us will be pursuing careers that will involve sustainability and energy efficiency. We're starting that right now. We're creating the pioneering energy leaders of tomorrow,” Jiang said.

Energy Corps hopes to increase public participation by inviting community members to submit project ideas and locations for sustainability upgrades. Their website has a project submission form open to all members of the Cornell community.

“What inspires me is that we are having a real impact. We can notice the changes on campus. It's not just talk, we're actually doing it,” said Roeschel.

Sushmitha Krishnamoorthy ’17 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.