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Stop. It's 5:00 pm. You're leaving your office, lab or classroom. Have you turned off the lights and computer monitor, turned down the heat or put the fume hood down to the lowest setting? If not, you're wasting valuable energy, and you might like to come to the university's first ever Energy Awareness Week events, where there will be ample information on the ways all members of the university can lessen their energy consumption — even at this coldest period of the year.
While energy conservation may not conjure up the dramatic images associated with other aspects of environmental stress — such as melting polar ice caps or threatened animal species —improving its use at McGill is considered important enough by some members of the Senate Sub-committee on the Environment to warrant its own event.
A visit to the foyer of the McConnell Engineering Building next week will find the likes of Kathleen Ng, McGill's environmental officer, with information on ways of conserving energy. She notes that simply turning off the computer or putting it on standby mode, when not in use, saves a lot of energy and money. A computer that runs 24 hours a day, for instance, uses between $75 and $120 worth of electricity per year, which is more than an efficient refrigerator, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada. In standby mode, however, the computer's energy use can be reduced to $15. With roughly 3,500 computers at McGill, not including students' laptops, that represents considerable savings.
Ng and fellow member of the committee organizing Energy Awareness Week, Alain Fournier, note that McGill has made great efforts to be more energy efficient. "We used to use steam, for instance, to power the chillers [for air-conditioning]," says Fournier, speaking from the Power House building where he is the supervisor. "Now we're switching to electrical power as it's more energy efficient."
But aside from retrofitting the old buildings, assuring that the new buildings are built in the most energy-efficient manner possible and encouraging the various units of the university to purchase the most energy-efficient products, Fournier has learned the rest is up to the individual members of the university.
At one point, for instance, he tried fixing and locking the thermostats at 21°C in the Administration building but the people within balked. "My goal was to save money and to stop people playing with the thermostats but I could see they weren't happy. It's very difficult to control temperature when there is more than one person in the office," he laughs. "Some are menopausal, some andropausal, some more sensitive to the cold than others. That's why we can't have control."
Fournier, along with his counterpart on the Macdonald Campus, Michel Gauthier, will be giving tours, or training students to give tours, of the power houses on both campuses during EAW. Those interested may sign up next week for tours at the McConnell building next week and get a chance to see just how all that steam is distributed to heat McGill's numerous buildings.
Three of those buildings, the University Centre, the Brown Building and the Allen Memorial Institute will be audited on Energy Day, next Thursday, to see how their energy consumption rate compares with its rate on the same day last year, taking into consideration differences in outside temperature. Tune in next issue to find out the results.
For more information on energy conservation and Energy Awareness Week, January 26-29, visit www.mcgill.ca/rethink/.