The Great Chilled Water Bazaar Or Harvard's Energy Labyrinth

A Grays Hall resident complained to a Buildings and Grounds (B&G) official earlier this semester because her room was too cold. Lately it has been so hot she has had to leave the window open all night. Harvard students like her wonder if the University is at all concerned with energy conservation.

Anne J. Brackman '80, of Harvard Ecology Action, an undergraduate organization interested in environmental issues, reflects many students' beliefs when she says, "We don't really know what Harvard's energy policies are." adding that if a program does exist it is very difficult to find out about.

"In the smaller rooms it gets fairly hot if I close the door, and sometimes, I have to open the windows to regulate it," a sophomore says. "I think it has something to do with the way the radiators are situated right next to the windows, and the way the rooms are so confined," he adds.

Harvard officials also point out the connection between windows, room design, and energy waste. Open windows account for the highest loss of energy to the University, J. Lawrence Joyce, director of the Buildings and Grounds department, says. This leads to the overheated rooms that so many students complain about, Joyce adds.

If a thermostat is near a window, the cold air coming from an open window can cause the thermostat to signal an increase in heat output, Joyce says. "But if the thermostat is set properly in the right place, then the system will be at balance," he adds.


On cold days, heat is often raised to the point of overcompensation, so when a warmer day follows, it is hard to cool off the rooms in response, Paul Mark, automation foremar, at B&G, says.

However, B&G does more than make excuses, for Harvard does have an energy policy of a sort, although it's made up of a number of separate programs. The department has a computer regulating environments in about 180 University buildings, and an active program to encourage general energy consciousness. In addition, a study completed last summer under the auspices of the Department of Analytical Studies tried to calculate how effective Harvard's energy conservation policies are.

The Honeywell Delta 2500 computer is located in the University's chilled water plant, nestled underground in the rear of the science center. The computer, used as a sort of alarm system, is tied into localized sensing systems, called points, in various classrooms, office buildings, laboratories and dormitories. An "alarm" is triggered when heating systems approach pre-set temperature maximums or minimums. The computer also responds to fire alarms in the buildings which are tied into it.

To be part of the Delta system, the various University Faculties (like those of the Law and Business schools) must pay B&G for each point. It is less expensive to buy a large quantity of points than to buy just a few.

"It is possible to save tremendous amounts of energy by being able to control building systems," Mark says. Since so much is done automatically, the energy that would have been wasted while someone walked around to all the various buildings shutting heating systems is saved, he adds.

Mark says steam consumption by the University is now less than it was two years ago when the Delta 2500 was installed.

The computer regulates the temperatures in specific areas like the library and the second floor of Eliot House, says Mark. About 420 points in Holyoke Center alone are regulated by the Delta 2500, he adds.

Many older buildings are not readily adaptable to the Delta system, so instead they are regulated according to outside temperature by local controllers, called "weathermen," Mark says.

Serious effort is made at regulating environments in Harvard buildings, but when something goes wrong, it is not usually because the computer has made a mistake, but rather because of a local console misfunction, if the building is on the Delta system, Mark says.

For example, last month a Science Center room reached about 90 degrees because of such a breakdown and it happened during a lecture on computers.