Passive Solar Wall Installed Atop MSU's New Jabs Hall

A passive solar wall installed atop Montana State University’s new Jabs Hall could pay for itself in 10 years, reduce the amount of energy used to heat the building and provide valuable data to research engineers.

Installation of the solar wall, completed on Monday, is one of many sustainable technologies being used to reduce the building’s energy use and carbon footprint. Jabs Hall, which was made possible by a $25 million donation from MSU alumni Jake Jabs, is under construction and scheduled to open in the summer of 2015. It will be the new home of the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

The solar wall, which makes up the south-facing side of the building’s mechanical penthouse, will preheat fresh air coming into the building thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the building.

“It’s simple, cost effective and will bring down the overall energy costs for Jabs Hall,” said Dan Stevenson, assistant director of MSU Facility Services. “And that is why it is a technology that is likely to be incorporated into almost every new building we see on campus. We replace the building’s skin with something that has energy performance built into it.”

The solar wall includes sensors that a research team from MSU’s College of Engineering will use to study how well the technology performs.

Kevin Amende, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology, said the data his lab collects will be an asset to engineers and architects on future projects. Having the ability to monitor the way fresh air warmed with solar energy affects the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems will also be a great tool for teaching future engineers studying in MSU’s HVAC Lab, Amende added.

The research project, which is being launched by mechanical engineering technology junior Ben Listowich of Kingfield, Maine, will combine data collected from a weather station atop Jabs Hall with data collected from sensors at various points within the solar wall. By also tracking the building’s HVAC system, Amende said the study should offer a pretty good picture of how the technology is performing within three or four years.

“If we can show empirically that we can heat up the in-take air by 10 degrees, that will corroborate that the use of this technology can deliver real energy savings,” Amende said. “Best of all, we’ll have students working out real-world problems with what we are learning from the solar wall data.”

Listowich agreed.

“When I joined (the HVAC lab) as an undergraduate researcher, I definitely didn’t expect to be working on a project this large,” Listowich said. “I expected to be testing air handlers in the lab. Instead, I’m testing a system that could have a big impact on how buildings’ energy systems are designed at MSU.”

The use of passive solar, as well as ground-source heating and cooling from a series of nearby wells, helps the new building fall into line with MSU’s strategic goals for advancing sustainability on campus, Stevenson said. Sustainability at Jabs Hall comes from looking for common-sense solutions, Stevenson added. For example, the building’s south-facing orientation will combine with abundant state-of-the-art windows and smart lighting technology to reduce energy demand during daylight hours.

Erik Renna, a 2002 grad from MSU’s College of Engineering who is now a mechanical engineer with Morrison-Maierle, said Jabs Hall should earn a LEED Gold certification for its environmentally friendly design. Morrison-Maierle is the mechanical engineering consultant for the Jabs Hall project.

“I think we are on track for gold, although we won’t know the final certification level until Jabs Hall is complete,” Renna said. “While the project mandate was for LEED Silver, we wanted to show that we could exceed that.”

Contact: Dan Stevenson (406) 994-5470, [email protected], or Kevin Amende, (406) 994-6304, [email protected].


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