Q&A: Powering Up
Big energy savings can come from small changes across campus
By Karen Shugart '99
Student Anna Brown '12 and Miriam Alison '11, seen right, on set with other members of "The Hunger Games" camera crew.
Joan Walker pushed for UNC Asheville to become more environmentally sustainable before she graduated in 2008. As an alumna, she continued her efforts, most recently by managing a $281,000 State Energy Internship Program grant. The initiative, which began in September 2011, helped 21 North Carolina students and recent graduates tackle energy efficiency projects on campus and in Buncombe County. Their efforts have paid off: Recent calculations indicate the program will create about $43,400 in annual energy savings—the equivalent of the utility costs for about 41 homes.
Today, Walker serves the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association as a community education and relations specialist. We spoke with her as the internship program came to a close in April to discuss its successes and how the university could further cut its energy use.
How has this program shaped the interns' careers?
We've got five interns who are going to graduate school. An intern who's been working at Buncombe County Schools has been doing such a great job there that they've created a full-time position for him. The interns have taken on a lot and had a lot of accomplishments that they can show on their résumés.
You came to UNC Asheville in 2005. How have the university's energy-efficiency efforts changed since then?
We have the lowest energy use per square foot of any campus in the UNC system. That's basically because of our Facilities folks. They've been working for decades to be energy efficient and use resources wisely. A couple of things changed while I was here, largely due to the efforts of myself and a group of other students who got the green fee passed ([in 2007 at $5 per student).
What has the green fee funded?
We bought an electric car for Campus Police. We created the Student Environmental Center, which has several student interns paid through the fee. They work on a plethora of different projects on campus. It's bought lighting controls for our student union. It's bought dual-flush valves for toilets to make them low-flow. It has funded several campus gardens.
How can the campus community reduce energy consumption?
I would really love to see people doing things like regularly turning off lights when they leave a classroom. They think, "Someone else will be here in 10 minutes." Well, those 10 minutes could save a lot of energy. Turning off lights, turning off computers, not buying a printer for your office when your department has a printer right down the hallway. People don't realize how many of these little things add up.
How does the university need to improve?
There are still a lot of savings to be gained through changes—in behavior, through lighting, through transportation changes—if we just have the energy and guidance to look for and implement those changes.