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Week of September 20, 2010

Planet Blue team leader makes systems work better

Getting mechanical things to work properly has always been a focus for Planet Blue Teams program manager Kevin Perkins, from the time he fixed the family TV and an aunt’s turntable as a teen in Detroit, to today when he makes sure U-M building systems work efficiently.

“I’ve always loved technology and trouble-shooting or problem solving equipment, also electrical systems as well. You just go through and try to figure out what’s wrong, what’s happening with the component that stopped it from working,” Perkins says.

Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services.

Two years ago Perkins — who has worked at U-M since 1990 — joined Planet Blue, which seeks to save energy costs by engaging and enabling building occupants and operators to pursue more energy-efficient practices. This is in keeping with President Mary Sue Coleman’s challenge to the university community to think about how even the smallest efforts can work to make U-M greener.

“The biggest thing we’re doing right now is going through every building to evaluate the energy efficiency and potential for cost savings,” Perkins says. “Some of the key things we look at: Are there certain times of the day/night we can turn things off? We have an aggressive team that tries to tune up all the mechanicals, and make sure HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) devices are working the way they’re supposed to.”

Perkins was inspired to study electronics in high school, and was called on to fix devices for friends and family. Perkins said it made an impression in the 1980s that some electronic devices such as VCRs were becoming so inexpensive that it made more sense to buy new than pay for repairs.

“I always knew that electronics was going to be growing; technology was evolving so quickly. It was the right direction to go,” Perkins says. “I knew studying electronic engineering would be useful in the future.”

While still in school, he began working as a service technician for Johnson Controls. “I was working on HVAC equipment — fans digital controllers, fire alarm systems, security systems—pretty much anything that can be controlled by a digital controller. Sometimes circuit boards can go bad. You just isolate the board and swap it out,” he says.

Perkins attended Wayne State University and Sienna Heights University in Adrian, Mich., to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and applied science. He began working in 1990 at U-M Hospital as an industrial electrician and HVAC technician before joining Planet Blue.

Perkins says it’s always an eye opener revealing to U-M building managers and occupants how much some heating and cooling operations cost. “It makes you feel good when you see you’re getting their attention,” he says. And while Planet Blue teams have been able to cut energy consumption by as much as one-third in some buildings, Perkins says he gets satisfaction out of responding to a range of building issues. When concerns about dust were raised in one building, “I pushed hard to get extensive duct cleaning; I’m pleased they’re more comfortable and safer breathing cleaner air,” he says.

Perkins is married to Marletta, and has two sons: Michael, 22, and Kendall, 9. The family lives in Plymouth Township. Perkins is a part-time basketball coach, coaching Kendall in two separate leagues.

“I love basketball. What feels really good when you’re coaching is you take a kid who is OK at first, who doesn’t know how to set up a pick and roll to the basket. When you teach them and you see those kids jell and have a passion to learn it’s a good feeling,” he says.

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Kevin Perkins, team leader, Planet Blue Teams, on the impression Planet Blue energy evaluations make on building users: “It makes you feel good when you see you’re getting their attention.”