(405c) Engineering Solutions for Sustainable Communities

Authors: 
Zygourakis, K., Rice University
Johnson, R., Rice University


This presentation will outline our experiences from a design course focusing on energy and sustainability. The course emphasizes the integration of engineering fundamentals with societal issues, environmental and safety considerations, sustainability and professional communications. We introduced this course in the spring of 2007 and taught it every year since then to highly interdisciplinary classes that included students from various engineering, natural science and social science majors.

The course begins with the introduction of a general framework for assessing the impact of humans on the environment. Several examples are used to present and critically analyze the IPAT equation and its variants. This introduction is followed by a series of lectures designed to help our students develop a broad understanding of the current and future availability of various primary energy sources, along with the environmental consequences of consuming these resources. Students are also introduced to the topic of global warming, and over the course of the semester, are exposed to linkages between global warming and energy technologies. We compare mature energy technologies to emerging technologies that are touted as ?green? solutions, and challenge our students to think critically about these solutions.

In parallel to these lectures, students collect data from the operation of various parts of the university using an expanding array of instruments that include: pyranometers for measuring solar insolation or the reflectivity (albedo) of building roofs or other surfaces, temperature sensors, devices that measure the consumption of electricity by lab instruments or computers, and light and motion sensors. Through a series of assignments, in-class discussions, and a final report, students learn how to process data in order to assess environmental performance and how to evaluate potential solutions for improving the environmental performance of the university enterprise.

To highlight the successes and underscore the challenges encountered in this course, we will present representative data and action plans from three projects considered over the past four years: (1) an assessment of potential energy savings for Houston buildings from ?cool roofs? (flat roofs covered with special paints to increase their reflectivity); (2) a study of the energy and water sustainability of Rice; and (3) the development of a detailed plan that will help Rice University become ?carbon-neutral? by a yet-to-be-determined future date through a combination of energy efficiency gains, changes in the fuel mix used to power the university and off-campus carbon sinks.