Energy expertise, $1 million presented for retrofit of county jail

Santa Clara County's Main Jail North will get a $1 million high-tech energy retrofit under the terms of an agreement that county supervisors approved at their meeting today.

The retrofit design will be guided by a detailed computer simulation of the jail to be created by Stanford energy researchers working under Martin Fischer, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. Think of it as a computer game that involves heating and air conditioning instead of avatars and fast cars.

Stanford has offered to pay up to $1 million to fund the energy study and retrofit of the 20-year-old, eight-story building at 150 W. Hedding St. The work is expected to reduce both the operating costs of the jail and its greenhouse gas emissions.

"This collaboration between Stanford University and the County comes at a critical time. Both Stanford and Santa Clara County have been leaders in energy conservation. We applaud Stanford for its innovative approach and look forward to working with them and their expertise to create a more energy-efficient jail," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss.

Edward Flores, chief of the Santa Clara County Department of Correction, added: "This partnership with Stanford University benefits the county, the environment and the community. We look forward to collaborating with Stanford University to improve our energy efficiency in an environmentally friendly way."

For the researchers from Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency, the project is an opportunity to build an expertise in computer simulation of existing buildings, said Jim Sweeney, the director of the institute. "Retrofit is more complicated and less well understood than new construction," Sweeney said.

If the jail project is successful, there may be opportunities for more collaboration in the future, he said.

The project will begin with installation of sensors throughout the jail to record, for example, temperature, airflow and the operation of the existing heating and air conditioning systems. These base-line measurements will contribute to the design of the computer simulation of the building. That mathematical simulation, in turn, will guide the design of the retrofit.

"It's almost like a lab experiment," Sweeney said.

The agreement calls for Stanford to offer its retrofit recommendations within two years.

“We are pleased that both of our organizations will be able to benefit from this cooperative effort,” said Larry Jinkins, the county’s director of facilities and fleet. “Making all of our facilities more energy- efficient is one of our key priorities. The Stanford research project will be one of several ‘green’ initiatives the county has underway. ”