Implementing Low Cost or No Cost Operational Energy Savings
*This is the eighth Guest Blog from Walter Simpson,**CEM, LEED AP, retired 26-year University at Buffalo Energy Officer and Director of UB Green. Walter will be writing blogs weekly that provide guidance on preparing a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to assist signatories of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. We encourage readers to post comments and questions for Walter. Read Walter's past weekly blogs here.*
Temperature Control – Many campuses are overheated or overcooled. This waste is everywhere and it can add up. At larger schools each degree of overheating or overcooling can produce hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional energy costs every year – plus of course an ever fatter carbon footprint. Fixing this can be easy and cheap – by adjusting setpoints on energy management systems or (more painstakingly) on individual thermostats. What to strive for? How about 68 degrees in winter and 78 in summer – and encourage everyone to dress appropriately – sweaters in winter and shorts and T-shirts in summer! Of course sports arenas can be heated to lower temperatures and campus warehouses and stockrooms to much lower temperatures. Note: in order to maximize these savings your frontline temperature control staff need top level backing and be encouraged to push the envelope and, yes, risk complaints.
Building Occupancy Hours and Equipment Run-Times – Large savings can be achieved by reducing the hours of operation of buildings and the equipment in them. A good policy will need top-level support so that if Professor Jones calls your president on Sunday afternoon to complain that there is no heat in his building, the president will explain and back the policy instead of picking up the phone and ordering that the entire building or campus be heated for one person! To reduce the run-times of building fans and other equipment, there is no alternative to a careful review of operational schedules -- going building by building and making a decision about each piece of equipment. Once hours of operation are contracted, keep an eye out to make sure they aren’t incrementally increased through undocumented and perhaps unapproved modifications. Each year, review all the schedules all over again. It takes time but it is worth it.
Turn Off Reheats in Summer – Many campuses have air conditioning systems which super-cool the air circulating in buildings to 55 degrees (to condense out water and reduce humidity) and then reheat that air before introducing it into rooms so that it does not cause occupant discomfort. Yikes! This would be a great strategy if energy were free and GHGs did not exist! Back in the real world this is practice is VERY wasteful and expensive. And in more temperate climates, it’s completely unnecessary. What’s the solution? Turn off all reheats during the cooling season. To avoid overcooling building occupants, simultaneously adjust building fan discharge temperatures to 62 to 64 degrees. We started doing this at the University at Buffalo three decades ago, producing then $2 million a year in savings. Yes, those savings were achieved by abandoning summer humidity control but hardly any one noticed. (Incidentally, a corollary to this strategy is to turn off winter humidification boilers. Lots to be saved there too.)
Empower Creative Staffers – Case in point is one of my favorite UB staff members, Herb Lydell. Herb is a controls technician and a true energy wiz. While I was at UB he was constantly coming up with innovative ways to save energy. One of Herb’s “inventions” was a very inexpensive controls modification that allowed us to use our campus wide district cooling system as a giant heat recovery machine in the winter. We call it the “Lydell Cycle” and it works by:
- Using the chilled water coils in building fan systems to capture waste heat that would otherwise be vented from certain buildings
- Transporting that heat via our underground chilled water loop (which we allowed to warm up in the winter) to other buildings which were constantly in need of heat (e.g. our lab buildings)
- Using the chilled water coils in these buildings to reject that heat and preheat intake air – thus reducing the heating load of building heating systems
Wring Out More Savings from Your EMS System -- EMS in facilities jargon means energy management system. There are centralized and decentralized EMS systems throughout most campuses, and one thing many of them have in common is that they are vastly under-utilized. And what a waste! These systems have many programs capable of increasing efficiency and producing substantial energy savings. Let’s use them! They include optimal start stop, peak shaving, and free cooling programs – the latter capable of cooling buildings with just outside air when temperature and humidity conditions are right. By some estimates, training and encouraging facilities staff to fully use existing campus EMS systems could reduce campus energy use by 10 to 15% or more.
Energy Awareness – a good energy awareness campaign throughout campus costs little but staff time to implement but can yield collective energy savings that add up to big numbers. Especially target those who can do the most: campus and departmental leaders, facilities staff (especially those in key positions), resident students, building managers, and your IT department director and staff. Use your energy awareness program to ask everyone on campus to complain very loudly when they see energy waste and thank them profusely when they do!
Energy Curtailments – There are periods when your campus is mostly unoccupied but buildings are open and energy-consuming/GHG-emitting equipment is running. Holiday and intercession periods come to mind. These are good times to ask people to take a vacation, batten down the hatches, and implement an energy curtailment. However, to obtain maximum savings from this strategy (and justify this draconian action), campus leadership needs to fully back the curtailment (and minimize exceptions) and facilities staff need to be prepared to take very painstaking action in each building to make sure the savings really accrue. A bigger opportunity may be summer months when the campus is quiet, most students and faculty have left, but offices are still open and the air conditioning is running wild in mostly unoccupied buildings.
That’s no way to solve the climate crisis!
Next week I’ll look at campus energy pigs and what to do about them!
‘till then climateers!
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