University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of EngineeringOnline: Autumn 2011
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Clarence Waters is high on his work. The Durham School professor of architectural engineering is enjoying a nine-month sabbatical in the Colorado Rockies, with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory until May 2012.

It’s the perfect place to be inspired by the possibilities—as Waters works with the Commercial Buildings Group at NREL’s Research Support Facility: a four-story office structure in the process of becoming a net zero building, producing more energy than it consumes on yearly average.

Being a research associate with NREL is a mutually beneficial experience, Waters said; while advancing the research, “I can learn from it and make connections that I’ll bring back to The Durham School.”

Waters arrived in Golden, Colo. in June for a summer project, studying the energy efficiency of electrical distribution systems in buildings. This work included a Durham colleague, Assistant Professor Mahmoud Alahmad, who returned to Omaha in August. Waters said, “Our contribution was in detailed modeling of electrical distribution systems based on a specific set of model data, for a medium-size office building.”

Since then, Waters has extended his interest in power distribution and lighting research, specifically daylighting analysis. NREL buildings practice what their occupants preach, with daylighting design implemented throughout the campus facilities. Beyond the passive solar energy features, there’s also energy-efficient lighting, an energy management system and other strategies—such as a direct evaporative cooling system—that help NREL cut energy costs and optimize building performance.

Waters’ expertise contributes to a toolkit NREL is developing, with software to incorporate detailed approaches from daylighting analysis for wider benefit. This free DOE tool uses Open Studio and Energy Plus resources to provide rigorous models for optimizing scenarios with a variety of commercial buildings. Waters is eager to add this tool to technology that’s part of AE studies in The Durham School.


Being a research associate with NREL is a mutually beneficial experience, Waters said; while advancing the research, “I can learn from it and make connections that I’ll bring back to The Durham School.”

He’s proud to interact with Durham School alumni employed at NREL, including three in the CBG: MAE graduates Justin Stein and Antony Florita, and Andrew Parker. Waters is also facilitating a visit from a group of current Nebraska Engineering students.

“I miss the students—they’re why I do what I do,” Waters said. “I’m excited to be hosting a group this fall at NREL.”

The students are affiliated with the Durham chapter of the Architectural Engineering Institute, which will hold its national meeting at Omaha in April 2012; the Durham group is preparing an entry in AEI’s upcoming student competition, with hopes for recognition at AEI’s Omaha event. A visit to NREL could expand their knowledge, said Waters, who has helped coordinate placements, including homestays, for the visiting Nebraska students with his CBG colleagues.

“Ideally, the students can tour NREL, meet with visiting companies, make and hear presentations, shadow the engineers and researchers here, and build strong relationships from their visit,” said Waters.

“That’s why I’m here: to learn the cutting edge stuff, and to share that learning,” he added. “There’s a culture here in CBG that centers on how energy efficient everybody is. Part of my orientation here was instruction on how to turn off computers to save energy, for example. I’m more aware of the amazing opportunities to save energy by establishing that culture, and I’d like to help make that mindset become even more prominent at The Durham School.”

- Carole Wilbeck


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