UMass Clean Energy Corps is an interdisciplinary service learning program. Led by Co-Directors Professor Ben Weil and Lauren Mattison, Clean Energy Corps accelerates the transition to clean energy in Massachusetts and beyond by assisting with municipal clean energy projects and contributing to development of the clean energy workforce.
Professor Weil founded and teaches the Clean Energy Corps course in UMass Amherst’s Building and Construction Technology program. Each spring semester, the class conducts clean energy studies and building audits at no cost for several cities and towns across Massachusetts.
Clean Energy Corps provides impartial, specific, actionable recommendations to retrofit facilities through energy efficiency, improved energy management, clean heating and cooling technologies, renewable energy generation, and energy storage. When appropriate, our recommendations include a combination of (1) short term actions to improve operating efficiency and address any immediate issues without major capital expenditures and (2) longer term solutions for decarbonization. We provide analysis to support our recommendations, such as calculations of potential energy and cost savings and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Our holistic approach also helps to create healthier buildings and improved work and learning environments by addressing ventilation, indoor air quality, humidity and temperature control issues.
Clean Energy Corps students obtain valuable experience in working with clients, delivering technical presentations, and applying their learning on data analysis, building science and diagnostics, and energy technologies.
Working with Clean Energy Corps
We select our projects on a case by case basis, depending on factors including the needs of municipal clients, the learning opportunity for our students, and the expected impact of our role in the project. Municipal representatives interested in working with us should write to Lauren Mattison. If we have capacity to take on new projects, we will talk with you to understand your community’s interests and needs, do preliminary analysis of your municipal energy use, and work with you to prioritize your facilities and identify a project that will be appropriate for both the community and our program. Communities are also welcome to contact us with specific project requests.
Projects typically include a site visit or online meeting early in the spring semester (late January or February) and a presentation of findings and recommendations by the student team toward the end of the semester (April or early May).
We understand the many challenges involved in implementing municipal clean energy projects, so after project presentations, we offer ongoing support, as staff time allows, to see projects through to completion. Depending on the community’s needs, this may include guidance in preparing scopes of work for design and/or installation, impartial review of proposals, and assistance writing grant applications and pursuing funding for implementation from sources such as the Green Communities Program and Mass Save.
Results & Communities Served
Since 2016, we have worked with more than 35 cities and towns, including:
Amherst, Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Cohasset, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Framingham, Gill, Goshen, Greenfield, Holyoke, Longmeadow, Medfield, Monson, Montague, Natick, New Salem, Newburyport, Northampton, Northfield, Orange, Pelham, Rowe, Shelburne, South Hadley, Sunderland, Tewksbury, Warwick, Westhampton, Weston, Whately, Windsor, Worcester
Our work has served as the basis for several successful Green Communities competitive grants and completed projects, including the following examples.
Northfield Elementary School
We have been working with Northfield’s Energy Committee for a few years on a retrofit of Northfield Elementary School. We initially did a building assessment and proposed an energy-efficient redesign of the school’s HVAC system; then we assisted with developing scopes of work, finding qualified contractors, obtaining Mass Save and Green Communities grants, and overseeing construction. While a vendor had previously proposed a total system replacement, which was cost prohibitive, we offered cost-effective solutions by limiting project costs with reuse of existing equipment when feasible. The project is being implemented in three phases and has already delivered great benefits:
- Phase 1 – building envelope upgrades: Resulted in 20% oil savings
- Phase 2 – Ventilation system with heat recovery & optimization of controls on existing boiler: Improved air quality, additional 22% oil + 10% electrical savings
- Phase 3 – Air-source heat pumps: Efficient electrification of heating, addition of cooling (in progress)
“We so appreciate all the time you have put into our efforts. We have lowered Northfield’s overall energy use by 27% and Northfield Elementary School alone has dropped by 54%! Much of this we can thank you for.”
– Energy Committee, Town of Northfield
Morse Institute Library, Natick
In spring 2022, the Town of Natick was the first recipient of the new $500,000 grant Green Communities custom implementation grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) for installation of an innovative, efficient and resilient heat pump and thermal energy storage system that we recommended for the public library in 2021. The new system is projected to reduce the building’s carbon emissions by 40%.
“Before connecting with UMass Clean Energy Corps, Natick was on track to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair outdated, inefficient HVAC equipment. Now we are on a journey to make our main library a zero carbon building – and save money in the process!”
– Jillian Wilson-Martin, Director of Sustainability, Town of Natick
Holyoke High School Dean Campus
The City of Holyoke is actively pursuing the Clean Energy Corps 2021 proposal for a water-source heat pump system, with the nearby Connecticut River as a heat sink/source, which would decarbonize Holyoke High School Dean Campus, the city’s highest energy user. Clean Energy Corps conceptualized this project and conducted a feasibility study in spring 2021, and projected that it would reduce the school’s energy consumption by approximately 85%, saving $34,000/year. With our assistance, Holyoke then received a grant from DOER to hire an engineering firm for the next stage of project development, which is currently in progress.
“Our ongoing partnership with UMass Clean Energy Corps has been instrumental in understanding our municipal energy use, pursuing cost-effective clean energy projects, and putting Holyoke on the path toward a clean energy future.”
– Yoni Glogower, Director of Conservation and Sustainability, City of Holyoke
Bennet-Hemenway Elementary School, Natick
In 2022-23, we worked closely with the Town of Natick to develop a technical concept and write a proposal for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Renew America’s Schools grant program. Natick’s proposal was one of only 24 selected nationally, with an award of over $2 million for electrification of the elementary school building and efficient addition of critical cooling capability. Read more.
Elementary School Air Quality and Inefficiency Solutions
Our staff met with the school department in a gateway city to identify a facility for an audit, and they told us about numerous challenges in one of the city’s oldest school buildings. There were frequent complaints about room temperatures and indoor air quality, and the school’s energy use intensity (EUI, energy use per square foot) has consistently been one of the highest in the city. In our site visit, we found that the building had minimal insulation; a steam heating system, which is inherently inefficient and difficult to control; and a mix of ventilation systems, most of which are no longer operating as designed. Insufficient fresh air was provided to parts of the building during school hours, and there was significant heat loss from open dampers when the building was unoccupied. We provided a detailed report with a plan to upgrade this inefficient, uncomfortable and unhealthy building and transition it off of fossil fuels with heat pumps and solar energy.
Green Communities Review and Middle School Heating System
We have worked with several communities that have received numerous grants toward energy efficiency projects from the Green Communities and Mass Save programs but reported minimal energy savings. Our staff starts with a thorough data review to confirm the accuracy of the reported energy savings, correct any data issues, and prioritize facilities for further study; and then we consider targeted facilities for a class project. In one town, we found that the middle school accounts for 9% of the town’s total energy use and its natural gas use has nearly doubled in the past decade. Through a zoom meeting and a brief visit to the school, we identified operational issues causing this dramatic increase. We presented to the town detailed recommendations to improve operating efficiency of the school’s heating system, as well as improving temperature control and comfort for the students, staff and faculty. These recommendations would cut the school’s energy use in half and save $65,000/year with minimal implementation cost.
In 2021, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) recognized the City of Greenfield with a Leading by Example Award for achieving a 67.7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2008. UMass Clean Energy Corps played a key role in that accomplishment, through a long-running partnership with Greenfield’s Director of Energy and Sustainability. We have contributed to a variety of projects, including:
- Developing a plan to to repurpose heat pump equipment from a decommissioned building to cost-effectively electrify heating and provide much-needed cooling at City Hall at significant cost and energy savings
- Providing consulting engineering services, functioning as an owner’s advocate, in the design of a new library, which is expected to be a net zero energy building