Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 69.58
Liaison Derek Nichols
Submission Date Dec. 14, 2018
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

University at Buffalo
IN-26: Innovation C

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Erin Moscati
Environmental Educator
Office of Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
GRoWing The Clean Energy Education Center

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:

The GRoW (Garden, Relax, or Work) Home is the University at Buffalo’s entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. It is an international competition held every two years where 20 collegiate teams are invited from around the world to design, build, operate, and market an ultra-efficient home. The competition challenges teams to develop a sustainable project that performs well in 10 individual contests, ranging from Architecture and Engineering excellence, to Market Appeal and Energy Balance. Through their efforts over 200 students and faculty from 13 different departments across 5 separate schools from 2 universities have come together to develop a comprehensive proposal to represent Buffalo on an international stage. As a result of this extremely rare opportunity, the students were able to work in a highly collaborative and vastly interdisciplinary fashion to gain real world experience through a common objective, all before they graduate. In this manner, the GRoW home serves as an ideal model to bridge the gap between research-based academia and practice-based industry.

Beginning in 2018, through funding received from the New York Governor Cuomo’s Energy to Lead Competition, the GRoW Home will now be permanently housed on UB's North Campus and set within the UB Solar Strand, a 3,200 panel, 750 kW array situated at the campus’ “front door.” When this move occurs, the GRoW Home will transition into the GRoW Clean Energy Center. The GRoW Clean Energy Center will not only be a student engagement space for direct or curricular and experiential learning activities related to clean energy, but it will also serve as a gathering and meeting space for sustainability oriented groups on campus, as well as local non-profits focused on clean energy within the greater Western New York community. Continuing the educational dimension of the GRoW Home, the new Clean Energy Center will be opened to K-12 schools, as well as college students outside UB, professional organizations, and community groups for tours, events and meetings. The Center will house static and dynamic interpretative exhibits and signage highlighting clean energy principles and processes.

This transformation is only possible as a result of extensive planning, research and student engagement. Beginning in January of 2018 UB’s School of Architecture and Planning held a graduate level architecture studio led by assistant professor, Martha Bohm to explore options for siting the GRoW Home at UB’s Solar Strand. Students reviewed the UB Master Plan, as well as world renowned landscape architect Walter Hood’s Master Plan for the UB Solar Strand, and the vision of the GRoW Home to explore potential locations. At the conclusion of the studio the best aspects of individual plans were woven into one comprehensive approach.

During the Spring 2018 semester two graduate level architecture students worked within UB’s Planning & Design office to conduct utilities discovery work, research sanitation options, conduct a feasibility study into the use of composting toilets, develop calculations for “islanding” the GRoW Clean Energy Center to operate off the grid, and collaborate with university architects and engineers to explore costs, code requirements and maintenance concerns associated with different options. The students also provided context into the project’s vision and served to ensure that the intent—to serve as a model building bridging the gap between research-based academia and practice-based industry and as a demonstration of clean-energy-- was not lost along the way.

The students explored accessibility concerns in relation to siting the GRoW Clean Energy Center. They researched the need for handicap parking, proposed relocating a bus shelter, and siting a campus bike share hub to ensure accessibility, as well as developing a safe pedestrian crossing to the site. The level of practical work conducted by the students was impressive. Since the original structure was temporary, certain aspects of construction, primarily related to plumbing, needed to be winterized in order to prevent water lines from freezing. This required the students to develop a plan for creating a foundation for the building, which would ensure pipes were below the frost line. However, this presented other issues related to aesthetic design of the building and also how the new finish height of the structure impacted our ability to meet ADA requirements and handicap access. Throughout this process, the students working on the project were being continuously exposed to, and tasked with resolving issues faced by practicing professionals. This exposure to real-world issues was invaluable, as it provided the students a glimpse into the process which takes place once the initial building design is complete. Providing these students an opportunity to create construction documents for a student-designed building gave them a perspective into details of the process which they otherwise would not have had.

In the summer of 2018, a graduate student within Architecture and Planning identified other operational Solar Decathalon homes across the country and conducted interviews with the institutions, organizations and home owners where the buildings are permanently installed. This research was done in an attempt to learn more about how these super-efficient buildings are being used, operated and leveraged to successfully communicate the unique nature of the buildings’ design. The student also developed a blue print of sorts to achieve LEED Platinum status, which is being used by the campus’ architects and engineers working on the project.

Additionally, two engineering students- one a graduate and another an undergrad worked during the summer of 2018 on research related to the GRoW Clean Energy Center. The undergraduate created an energy model of the GRoW Clean Energy Center, which will be used to support our LEED submission. The graduate student conducted research and developed plans to integrate experiential learning into the GRoW Clean Energy Center.

The amount of work performed by graduate and undergraduate students related to transforming the GRoW Home into the GRoW Clean Energy Center has been critical to leveraging funding for and administrative support of this project. Their work has transformed a great idea into a great project, and will serve as a testament to their academic work while students at UB.

Which of the following impact areas does the innovation most closely relate to? (select up to three):
Campus Engagement

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:

Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.