Portland State University is launching a four-part project to improve energy efficiency and gauge whether green technology can be used to lure new business.
The school will install meters on 21 energy efficient buildings in the SoMa EcoDistrict, one of five neighborhood-level sustainability initiatives in the city. The district includes all of PSU and the commercial strip from Southeast 4th Avenue to Naito Parkway.
Data from the meters will stream to a "visualization theater" on the first floor of the school's Market Center Building, where advanced software will model the information on seven 90-inch screens.
Leading the project is Erin Flynn, associate vice president for PSU's Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships and co-chair of the SoMa EcoDistrict, which recently received non-profit status.
The vision is to utilize the district as a "living laboratory," she said. Students, faculty and leaders in the green building industry will model energy use scenarios and study how tenants' behavior affects efficiency.
The university is interested in advancing research, Flynn said. The district is interested attracting young companies to help establish neighborhood identity.
The grand experiment was designed to recoup $1.5 million the United States Economic Development Administration had granted to another PSU sustainability project several years ago. Plans for the Oregon Sustainability Center, which the university hoped would become the world's first zero-carbon building, dissolved in 2010 after the Oregon Legislature refused to provide funding.
"Nobody wants to leave $1.5 million on the table," Flynn said, so in 2012 she and other leaders began designing a project that fulfilled similar goals.
The grant required PSU to match the gift, so Flynn found $1.7 million already in the school's budget to replace a campus boiler. She labeled the upgrade phase one of the project, and constructed a relevant experiment.
The EDA agreed to put up the money in March, a year after Flynn submitted the proposal. The EDA grant will go toward the upfront costs for technology.
"It was long and hard, but we got it approved and it's an awesome project," she said. "I'm super, super excited about it."
The university is also designing a curriculum for a Professional Energy Certificate – a one-year post-undergraduate program that can be completed independently or in conjunction with a relevant master's degree.
Flynn said it will likely take about two years to install the meters and visualization theater, and the university will likely enroll the first Professional Energy Certificate students in 2015. The school has allocated a total of $2.1 million for the project.