Power Down- Operations Control Center

January 30, 2016

How does Penn manage energy usage across campus? What are Red Days? Steam and chilled water? Energy at Penn gets complicated, so we tracked down the men in charge, Ken Ogawa, Executive Director of Operations, Operations and Maintenance, and Walt Molishus, Utilities Operations Manager, Operations and Maintenance. Below is an edited excerpt of our discussion.


Green Campus Partnership: What is Operations and Maintenance?

Ken Ogawa: Operations and Maintenance is made up of a few groups: people who manage customer service, an engineering team, a housekeeping team, and maintenance staff, including grounds. Within the maintenance staff is the Operations Control Center (OCC) team.


GCP: And what’s the Operations Control Center?

Ken: The OCC is a room manned 24/7. It receives large amounts of information fed by over 280,000 data points from all our building sensors and alarms. This data goes into a very advanced computer system (called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, SCADA) that translates it and puts it up on all of our screens. This helps our OCC staff manage the entire campus in real-time from one place. They can do everything from monitor and change the temperature in a single room on campus to turning a chiller off or monitoring a fire alarm.

Walt Molishus: Every day you can see the differences in energy usage across campus. For instance, between 7:30 and 8:30AM you can “see” people waking up. Coffee machines, microwaves, air conditioners coming on, we can see that energy spike in our OCC.


GCP: What does the Operations and Maintenance team do to manage Penn’s energy consumption?

Walt: We have many measures in place to reduce our campus energy consumption. Buildings that are unoccupied for certain hours and overnight can be scheduled to turn the air handlers down or off and have their temperatures adjusted based on weather conditions. There are a lot of buildings where we have worked with the staff to reduce energy usage in the off-hours. Now it all happens automatically, a sort of “night-time sleep mode”. So if you go into a building that’s not normally occupied at that time, it might be slightly uncomfortable, a bit too hot or cold. We just ask that you be understanding of building conditions during odd hours.

Ken: And the way we manage energy consumption generally changes based on the type of commodity we’re talking about.


GCP: For example?

Ken: So steam, we don’t usually manage with a demand-response system, but we do have temperature set-points. We can shed load [the energy demanded by a specific source], but that requires turning off a whole building, and we don’t generally do that. But we do monitor usage, because if we see a sudden spike in steam usage, that might mean a leakage somewhere.  

Walt: We purchase our steam from Veolia Energy across the Schuylkill River. The steam is sent underneath the river and then distributed across campus through our underground piping system, about 9 miles of tunnels and 130 manholes.

Ken: Based on our contract, they agreed to make an investment in rapid start boilers further reducing our carbon emissions from steam. In fact the whole city’s carbon emissions from steam were reduced nearly 25%, just from this contract stipulation.


GCP: And energy other than steam?

Ken: Chilled water and electricity go hand-in-hand, because all the chilled water is currently generated using electricity. We monitor electricity usage across campus, and during the summer we will shed load to minimize our peak energy usage. For minimal action and no discernible impact on building users, we can save the University hundreds of thousands of dollars every year just by reducing our peak energy usage.


GCP: What’s a “Red Day”?

Ken: The way the electricity market works, what you use this summer will set your rate for the next year. The regulators look at the five highest hours of energy usage over the summer, determine your own contribution to it, and use that to set your peak rate for the next year. Those predicted peak hours are what we call a Red Day. So if we can predict when those peak hours will be, and we can do that pretty well, we can reduce our energy usage during that time. This action provides significant cost avoidance for the university in just a few hours and in a way nobody will really notice. We can’t do it all the time, but we can reduce for a short duration.


GCP: What can building occupants do better to help reduce campus energy usage?

Walt: It’s the small things, turning off the lights, lowering the thermostat.

Ken: The little things add up to a lot when you multiply by 40,000 plus people across Penn’s campus. You also want to create good habits, so even if you’re leaving for five minutes, it’s worth turning off the lights, because not turning off the lights can become a bad habit. The real question is: how can you make turning off the lights a habit for not only yourself, but also for the next generation of people? 

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