Westar Partners with KU on Sustainable Initiative

The following press release was written by Kimberly N. Gronniger/Manager, Consumer Service/Westar, to be used in Westar’s internal newsletter & publications:

SmartStar, EVs, wind turbine figure prominently in Center for Design Research

At an open house July 16 unveiling the new home for the University of Kansas Center for Design Research, Westar Energy’s SmartStar technology and electric car charging station were featured in the facility designed and built by Studio 804 master’s level architecture students.

Although several universities have design research centers, no other university in the country has a dedicated campus building open to individuals, community groups, and companies interested in learning more about integrating energy efficient and sustainable elements into homes and businesses, according to Greg Thomas, the center’s director.

“When we heard about Westar’s SmartStar smart meter pilot program in Lawrence just a year ago, we immediately set up a meeting with Hal Jensen and Matt Lehrman to explore how this could work,” said Thomas. “The smart grid is essential to our ability to track and monitor our energy production and consumption.”

Hal Jensen, director of SmartStar programs for Westar, said, “We’ve been very pleased to have the opportunity to work with Greg and the Studio 804 team on the Center for Design Research. The availability of a leading-edge research studio like this in our service territory, and particularly in our SmartStar Lawrence deployment area, is significant for us. We look forward to continuing to partner with the CDR as new technology and products continue to emerge. Applied research like this can help us identify what ultimately brings the most value to our customers.”

The center’s many energy-efficient amenities include a solar panel roof garden, rheostat windows with shading sensors so they can be darkened as needed and a wind turbine. The Westar Green Team provided the foundation, conduit and wiring for a wind turbine donated by the KU Transportation Research Institute. A sophisticated system disperses rainwater not only to handle plumbing needs but also to hydrate an attractive and intriguing living wall of more than 10,000 individual ferns. A touch-screen display chronicles the building’s evolution and describes its many sustainable attributes, including donated Italian glass cabinetry and exterior and interior walls crafted from 98 tons of cottonwood ledge limestone students salvaged from Kansas quarries and cut by hand.

“This is really Lewis and Clark exploratory stuff we’ve put together in a unique test site that includes a smart building as well as one of the state’s first electric vehicle charging stations,” said Thomas. “In one year we’ve created a conversation about smart building sustainability in Lawrence.”

Matt Lehrman, who helps develop SmartStar customer programs and the company’s ElectroGo electric vehicle program, fielded numerous inquiries at the open house. Lehrman said, “This is a great facility that will help showcase emerging technology in a hands-on manner. It’s important for people to be able to see in a tangible way that much of this is not reserved for the future; it’s here now, just like the Chevrolet Volt that we’ve brought with us today. It’s a real car that’s full of features and fun to drive. It offers a true solution for a number of people’s daily driving needs.”

“Westar representatives understood the importance of this collaborative effort and embraced the concept of demonstrating how sustainable practices can be employed in contemporary construction,” said Dan Rockhill, a professor of architecture at the University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design and Planning. “Through this project, we are able to share ideas with the public while also enhancing the education of our students –a win-win situation.”

The showpiece center is adjacent to an original stone farmhouse, which will provide a research area for students and faculty while the center itself will be used for a classroom, corporate and community group gatherings, public tours and university meetings. The project began with $300,000 of seed money that students parlayed into sizeable donations from sustainable design manufacturers and other contributors, resulting in an impressive $1.2 million facility dedicated to innovation.

Under Rockhill’s oversight, 23 students designed and built the structure, working 12-hour shifts six days a week to complete the project through record-breaking spells of hot and cold weather. Previous Studio 804 work groups have garnered international recognition and awards for their efforts. One of Rockhill’s goals with the ambitious project will be to pursue status as the first Leadership in Energy Efficiency Design (LEED) Platinum building in Lawrence and the first on the KU campus.

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