To tell you about my internship journey, I have to go way back – back to my undergraduate years studying Electrical Engineering in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut. My focus was on renewable energy and my final year project was on simulating the breaking system of hybrid electric cars. After graduation, I faced the reality of the Middle Eastern job market and the absence of jobs in my desired field. My dreams of helping the earth in the sustainability field lost out to the reality of the offer I got from an oil and gas company. Dreams don’t pay the rent.
However, I kept the dream alive, and after getting accepted into the Rady School of Management, I focused my internship search on sustainability. With help from my career advisors I was made aware of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps program. I applied and was accepted.
EDF Climate Corps is a summer fellowship program organized by the Environmental Defense Fund, whereby it selects and trains graduate students and matches them with organizations that have certain energy goals.
I got assigned to Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, Texas. Here are a few fun facts about Huntsville: it has only one small cinema, and I luckily found an apartment that is within walking distance. Downtown Huntsville has a lot to offer, such as several antique shops for the many people who are into antiquing I suppose.
At Sam Houston, I was engaged with the Facilities Management and Energy Management offices to help them achieve their goals of determining their university’s carbon footprint and figuring out ways to conserve energy and money. I knew the latter would be quite challenging since SHSU only paid $0.047/kWh for their electricity, or to those who don’t understand that number: extremely cheap.
I set about gathering utility data from the past three years and calculated the university’s carbon footprint. Then I focused on what I considered the more important aspect: reducing this footprint by focusing on energy efficiency. To my surprise, most of the school was using old fluorescent T8 bulbs that consume a lot of power, therefore, it was perfect for LED retrofits and occupancy sensors. Since the university had a sprawling campus with 241 buildings, I focused my efforts on specific projects: LED retrofits for the parking garage and library, and installing occupancy sensors in 300 bathrooms.
Next, I turned my attention to a major consumer on campus: the residence halls for the students. With around 1,900 rooms and close to 4,000 students, residence halls consume about 25 percent of the university’s water. I checked the rooms and noticed that the faucets and showerheads they use are 2.2 and 2.0 GPM flow rated. Therefore, by changing to 0.35 GPM and 1.25 GPM faucets and showerheads respectively, we can achieve significant water savings.
Finally, during the time I spent on campus, I interacted with some college kids and asked them what they knew about energy efficiency. This being in the heart of Texas, I wasn’t particularly surprised to find out that many had no clue. This gave me the idea to implement an energy awareness campaign, which was not part of my initial plan for the internship. I contacted the marketing department of the university and we collaborated on the implementation. Since I wanted the campaign to be student facing, and since students love hashtags, we created the campaign slogan: #SHSUgoesgreen, which became part of the university’s sustainability logo. We designed brochures with energy saving tips that will be handed out to all the dorm rooms, and we printed t-shirts with our campaign logo for the RAs to wear as they hand the brochures out, promoting conversation about energy efficiency. We will also be interacting with the students on the university’s social media account through our hashtag, and will hold social media contests to promote energy saving behavior.
Of course, it’s easy to say the bulbs or the faucets need to be changed, but it’s very difficult to convince an accountant to part with the money required to do so. That’s where the most important aspect of my internship comes in: I must financially analyze every suggested project, considering initial investments required, possible rebates, and the resulting annual savings.
I can proudly say that the projects I suggested have the potential of achieving around $200,000 in annual savings with a combined NPV of around $1,500,000, and reducing SHSU’s carbon footprint by about 750 metric tons of CO2e annually.
My time at the Rady School helped me use my entrepreneurial skills to implement long lasting changes on the campus. Not too shabby for an ex – oil and gas engineer.
Rawad Abi Saab is an electrical engineer and current Rady MBA candidate. He enjoys being active and participating in activities such as camping, hiking, exercising, swimming and surfing. He is passionate about sustainability and works in the field to ensure future generations are able to enjoy the beauty of our planet.