Smart Thermostats at Kenyon College

Smart Thermostats

THAT FEELS MUCH BETTER. As one part of an ambitious $7-million energy-conservation project, rooms in six residence halls on the campus of Kenyon College have been outfitted with smart thermostats, motion and heat sensors that detect occupancy, and sensors that report open windows. The temperature in a heated room with an open window drops immediately to 55°F. An unoccupied room with the windows closed drops to 68°F.

Kenyon College is a private liberal arts college in Gambier, OH, known for being one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world. The school has undertaken a number of sustainability initiatives, including a recycling system upgrade, a biodiesel project and the creation of a dining hall composting system, as well as the distribution of green living guides for students. Under the direction of Ed Neal, sustainability director at Kenyon, students also partnered with administrators to complete a campus energy audit for the last three years, as well as a carbon footprint calculation.

Kenyon is 100-percent residential, with over 1,800 students living on campus. As a result of the energy audit performed, Ed Neal spearheaded a project to retrofit Kenyon’s residence hall rooms with wireless energy management technology from Magnum Energy Solutions. Prior to the retrofit, students had very limited control over their thermal comfort while in their rooms and therefore experienced warmer-than-necessary indoor temperatures. To combat this, students left windows open nearly year round, which resulted in wasted energy and higher bills for the college. The college tried programmable thermostats, but these were overly complicated and students weren’t receptive.

In 2012, the college implemented wireless, battery-free energy management technology. Now Kenyon dorm rooms are equipped with smart thermostats, occupancy sensors and window sensors that automate HVAC in the rooms. If a student opens a window, a wireless signal is sent and received by the smart thermostat, which then automatically turns off the HVAC system. Furthermore, when the student leaves the dorm, the thermostat receives a signal from the occupancy sensor and automatically sets back the HVAC into ecosavings mode, where it is allowed to drift to a lower (or higher) set point according to the college’s preferences.

The new system includes software and associated access points strategically located within the TCP/IP infrastructure in the residence halls, providing the ability to remotely configure, monitor and control the system. The dedicated software offers visibility into energy consumption data in real-time and control over the maintenance of the system, and gives the facilities team at Kenyon full control over the configuration of devices.

The students have completely embraced the system, which now allows them to have more control over the temperature in their residence hall rooms.

“The operation of the system is simple and straightforward and the installation, performed by Ameresco, didn’t impact regular operations at all,” observes Neal, who also notes an unexpected, yet important additional benefit. “In the summer months, dorm rooms were overcooled and the relative humidity would get high, creating mold problems,” he says. “With the Magnum system initiating set backs and thermostat control, the relative humidity is staying where it should, between 51 and 54 percent.”

Over the eight-month period that the technology has been deployed in the initial 400 residence hall rooms, the calculated energy savings are over $30,000, putting Kenyon one year ahead of the payback they initially estimated when the project began. As a result of the energy savings and improved resident comfort, the college is expanding the system into additional residence halls and academic buildings across campus.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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