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Energy Manager John MacDonald: “There are a lot of quick, easy fixes — more sophisticated controls, for example, or metering — that once implemented will help us become a ‘greener’ university. But a lot of it is in our hands, quite literally; as a University community, we just have to take it upon ourselves to be responsible consumers.”(Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Meeting the University’s Energy Challenge Head-on

John MacDonald is front and center in Boston College's continuing conservation efforts
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By Sean Smith  | Chronicle Editor
Published: January 21, 2010
Some people look at Boston College’s residence halls, academic and administrative buildings and other edifices and see windows, walls and doors. Newly appointed Energy Manager John MacDonald, however, sees BTUs, light fixtures, exhaust fans and HVAC systems.

Actually, that’s somewhat of an exaggeration. MacDonald, who joined the University late last semester, is quite impressed with the aesthetic qualities of its campus.

“You take a walk around Boston College,” says MacDonald, “and you can see that it’s a well-managed, well-run university. People obviously work hard to make the campus so attractive.”

Still, as energy manager, MacDonald is less concerned with appearance than cost when it comes to BC’s facilities. He is front and center in the University’s continuing conservation efforts, assessing BC’s operations and figuring out how to make it more energy efficient — light bulb by light bulb, exhaust fan by exhaust fan.

“It’s a matter of looking at the whole spectrum of the HVAC [heat, ventilation, air conditioning], electrical and other systems,” says MacDonald, a former systems engineer at American Power Conversion in Rhode Island who since 2008 has worked as a data center design consultant.

“There are a lot of quick, easy fixes — more sophisticated controls, for example, or metering — that once implemented will help us become a ‘greener’ university. But a lot of it is in our hands, quite literally; as a University community, we just have to take it upon ourselves to be responsible consumers.”

Perhaps the best way to grasp the University’s energy costs, says MacDonald, is to break down its many operations into smaller components, then get out the calculator. For instance, he notes, a 100-watt light bulb left on for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, adds up to $150 a year — if you imagine how many 100-watt light bulbs are used in a building like a Higgins or Campion Hall, it’s easy to see how the energy dollars add up.

“Electricity alone represents 60 percent of the energy bill,” says MacDonald, who holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and New Hampshire Technical College.

Or take the 32 exhaust fans in Edmonds Hall, he says: Their total cost amounts to $4 an hour, which may not seem like much except that they operate continuously throughout the year.

“However,” he adds, “you also have to consider the cascade effect this fan operation has on the central heating plant, on steam generation, and other campus facilities. And all the while, greenhouse gases are being produced, which represents a whole other area of concern.”

That’s why the University has been increasingly vigilant about monitoring energy use — installing meters, for example — and replacing inefficient lighting or HVAC equipment, among other steps, MacDonald says. The introduction of cogeneration technology, through which energy is generated on campus, is another promising area for BC to explore.

“NStar is looking at an increasing conservation incentives, which can be used to implement energy saving measures,” MacDonald adds. “So, as BC finds more ways to cut energy usage, which is a benefit in and of itself, we can realize additional savings.”

Members of the University community who are interested in campus energy-related issues, says MacDonald, should look at the BC sustainability website www.bc.edu/sustainability, which includes links to resources and a “suggestion box.”