Every action Blackburn takes to reduce the amount of energy it uses contributes to enhancing the College’s environmental sustainability. Most of the electricity produced in Illinois comes from coal-fired generating plants, major sources of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps solar heat, causing global warming. The College burns natural gas, another fossil fuel, to heat campus buildings. Natural gas also exhausts carbon dioxide, though less than coal, and so adds to global warming. The money that Blackburn saves by reducing the amount of energy it must buy to heat and light the campus increases the amount of money available to support teaching and student programs, the College’s whole reason for being!
- The College has used a computer-controlled Energy Management System for many years to provide heating and cooling in campus buildings only when and where needed. A master room reservation schedule permits winter heating temperatures to be raised when a room is scheduled for class or other uses and then lowered when that room is not being used. The same is true for cooling rooms when it is hot outside and air conditioning is operating. Student residence halls are assumed always to be in use when college is in session, but temperatures are adjusted when these building are not occupied. Using this system, Blackburn avoids burning the significant amounts of natural gas that would be required to heat rooms not being used.
- Buildings waste much of the energy used for their heating and cooling when it leaks out, especially through windows and roofs. In continuing actions over recent years single pane windows have been completely replaced with double thermal pane windows, or even more efficient Low-E windows, in all buildings except Ludlum, Anderson, and parts of Bothwell. The most efficient low-E windows even reflect heat back inside during winter and bar some heat radiation from outside in summer.
- Buildings can lose as much as 35% of their heat in winter through their attics and roofs and absorb heat through poorly or uninsulated attics during the summer months. Additional insulation has been added to the attic of each building renovated in recent years and all recently constructed buildings were built with heavy insulation. Examples are Mahan, the Demuzio Center, Visual Arts and the major renovations of both Hudson and Lumpkin Library.
- Though not seen by occupants, the boilers that heat the water that heats the air circulated through all the buildings’ can make an important contribution to energy conservation. One by one, the College has been replacing older boilers in campus buildings with High Efficiency boilers that reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the buildings. The heat given off as exhaust in heating the water does not go “up the chimney” but, instead, is piped back and added to heating the air circulating to all the buildings’ heating registers. The Energy Management System also controls the operation of the buildings’ boilers, so their temperature controls are set, influenced by outside air temperatures.
- Another major contribution to campus energy conservation has been the replacement of incandescent lighting and older and less efficient fluorescents with screw-in CFL florescent bulbs and thinner florescent tubes, both of which use a small fraction of the electricity to create the same amount of illumination. These new lights can reduce by more than 50% the electricity otherwise used to illuminate by incandescent bulbs. This more efficient lighting has been installed in all recent construction and, as funds allow, in older buildings except where the space available for bulbs will not accommodate the size of CFL bulbs.
- High Efficiency air conditioning units, which produce greater cooling per kilowatt hour of electricity used, have recently been installed for Lumpkin library and both Butler and Stoddard parlors. The building renovations made to create Woodson business and economics center included installing High Efficiency heating and cooling units mounted on the roof.
- One building, the Mahan science, has been constructed to meet the standards of LEED Silver certification. Those standards required meticulous adherence to construction that conserved energy in every possible way, recycling all metal and wood scraps from building materials not used, landscaping with only low water use plantings. This science center was also built with attention to maximizing the opportunities for sustainability education.
- Alternative energy sources. The actions considered so far in this summary have all concerned reducing the use of fossil fuels–coal and natural gas–to generate heating, lighting and cooling. Blackburn’s first ventures into alternative energy sources have permitted the College to meet at least a small fraction of its energy needs through geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is naturally occurring energy captured from underground by piping that utilizes the differential between above ground and underground temperatures to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. To date, the College has installed geothermal heating and cooling in the Lumpkin basement area used by the Department of Education and in the office areas of the Mahan science building, and in the Olin physics laboratory.
- Personal actions that have helped reduce energy use. Small posters have been designed and mounted in all classrooms and laboratories portraying Uncle Sam pointing a finger and saying “I want you to turn off the lights.” This appeals to the conscience of those leaving the room at the end of class periods to take the simple action of flipping the light switch to “off.