Montgomery College Green Team Offers Award for Energy Efficiency

By Nicholas Christopher, last updated 9/23/13 10:37pm

Dr. Timothy McWhirter, co-chair of the Montgomery College Green Team, in his office

Photo credit N. Triolo  

I was excited when I received an e-mail from Dr. Timothy McWhirter, Professor of Philosophy at Montgomery College, asking me to meet up to discuss the M.C. Green Team’s new efficiency contest. As a former M.C. student and admirer of its excellent faculty, I was keen to learn more about what the institution’s outlook was on renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and environmental protection.

The efficiency contest is currently underway, with a December 1st deadline. Dr. McWhirter and his fellow Green Team members are hoping to draw proposals from students in all fields, as well as from other members of the Montgomery College community. The goal is to build a broad base of ideas from experts, novices, and everyone in between. Some of these ideas will be “finished products” that the school can implement immediately to improve its energy efficiency. And the financial incentives for participants are enticing. Here are the specifics:

Students, staff, faculty, and administrators are eligible.  Contestants are asked to submit proposals under two pages long that describe how the college can reduce its use of energy and resources and document the savings.  The proposals should be submitted to by December 1st, 2013. A panel of experts will select the top five proposals.  These winners of the first round will receive 200$.  The top five proposals will then be developed further during the spring semester working with college personnel.  The winner of the second round will receive $2,500, second place $1,000, third place $500.

Now in his third year at Montgomery College, Dr. McWhirter is the co-chair of the M.C. Green Team with Mike Whitcomb, the college’s Energy Manager. The Green Team has representatives from all areas of the college’s administration and staff, and a parallel student team that meets regularly. In crafting the efficiency contest, their principal challenge was one that many organizations at academic institutions face: “How do you pay for good ideas?” After looking into many options, the team was able to find an existing policy at M.C. that allowed them to create the award. The MC Green Team may consider sponsoring a similar contest every five or eight years, so that the college can keep up with the latest trends in the fast-developing field of energy saving.

Dr. McWhirter is a whirlwind of ideas, practical and grand. His academic pursuits are diverse – among others, they are ethics and the philosophy of science. His dissertation topic was the science of non-equilibrium thermodynamics: an inquiry into how the growth of human social systems depends on their increased ability to expend energy. Importantly, these pursuits have brought him to an understanding of the critical importance of academic institutions in the broad and necessary social project of increasing energy efficiency while conserving resources. Before moving to M.C., he was a faculty member at Broward College, where he was a member of a college-wide sustainability committee whose innovations resulted in the school saving $800,000 annually on energy costs.

Construction is currently being completed on the East Wing of the Science Center at Montgomery College’s Rockville campus, and the building is an example of the kind of environmentally conscious, energy-saving design that the M.C. Green Team hopes will make Montgomery College a beacon for other academic institutions in the area and nationwide. In addition to using solar panels, the building was systematically planned for energy efficiency. Circular, concave air handlers move air through the building more efficiently than traditional flat, rectangular ones. Sensors gauge the amount of light coming into the building through windows, and adjust the artificial light level accordingly. And a “green roof” – a roof covered with grass and other plants – reduces the energy required for heating and cooling, and provides clean storm water management by absorbing rain so it will not run into the street. This building, along with a planned Biosciences Center at the Germantown campus, will receive Gold LEED Certification.

The M.C. Green Team sees these new centers as models for future construction at Montgomery College and throughout the county, state and country; and the team supports efforts to promote mixed-use zoning and multiple modes of transport, including public transportation like the Purple Line and the Bus Rapid Transit System planned for the county.

The buzz around Montgomery College’s first-ever efficiency contest is growing as contestants begin to submit proposals. The M.C. Green Team stresses that no potential contestant should feel intimidated if energy efficiency does not fall in their area of study or general field of knowledge. Everyone in the Montgomery College community is encouraged to take part, and the research involved could well yield some ideas that prove useful in your own life. If you are not directly part of the M.C. community, you can still use this opportunity to look into the college’s many energy saving, environmentally friendly initiatives, and to draw inspiration for your own wellbeing and that of your community and local ecosystem.

Filed under Renewable energy / energy saving

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