Do You Need an Energy Master Plan?

Energy master planning is gaining popularity on college campuses as a way to contain costs and better serve future student populations. College administrators and facilities managers are rethinking their long-term design criteria through an operations blueprint. At the forefront of an operations blueprint is energy management, an area that can produce dramatic savings without compromising user comfort.

An Arizona Case Study

An energy master plan helps campus planners and facility managers make informed decisions about facility upgrades, facility operations and energy consumption, use patterns and load profiles. Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), the second-largest multicampus community college district in the United States, sought to reduce its $4.3-million utility bill on its more than 2.8 million square feet of campus. The institution’s facility managers also realized that nearly 90 percent of the existing campus buildings needed heating, cooling, controls or lighting system upgrades.

They hired Tempe, Ariz.-based Comfort Systems USA’s Business Solutions Group to analyze conditions and create a master plan that evaluated their energy use. Taking an integrated energy services approach, the team included financial experts, certified energy managers, mechanical and electrical engineers, statisticians, and construction and energy procurement specialists.

Today, MCCCD is in the midst of a multiyear, multiphase implementation program founded on the blueprint outlined in the energy master plan. And now, as campus facilities planning and design projects roll out, they are integrated -- start to finish -- with the new energy standards. Arlen Solochek, AIA, manager of facilities planning and development for the college district, credits the energy master plan with creating long-term savings. “Many of the savings have been greater than expected,” he notes.

Energy Master Plan Unveiled

Headed by director of engineering Carol Johnson, the energy analysis team looked for opportunities for immediate and long-term energy efficiency and facility improvement opportunities. Her staff performed a detailed evaluation covering existing equipment for efficiency, aging and projected maintenance costs; user needs, desires and goals; utility service providers, their rates and reliability; and load patterns based on current and projected consumption alternatives.

Technical students were used as data collectors, after a one-day data collection training. This gave the students valuable real-world experience, accelerated the energy analysis process and reduced the district’s overall costs. Because the investigation spanned 12 campuses within a 9,226-square-mile county, student data collectors added eyes and ears in times and places the primary team could not reach. The students were also able to talk to other students and teachers as peers -- to find out what they really thought about facility needs and comfort in their educational setting.

Politics and Savings

Johnson notes, “In our initial investigative pass, our team focused on opportunities for the largest savings and looked for areas that could touch all campuses in the first pass. We found that lighting modifications would yield significant results on all campuses immediately. The strategy was to use savings from more efficient lighting to offset some of the more expensive and longer payback modifications.”

Above and beyond documenting interior/exterior lighting types and fixture counts, the energy analysts captured the operating schedules for all campus buildings, and gathered spot measurements of major equipment motor loads. Chiller logs were obtained to determine overall performance. All collected information was then modeled using spreadsheets and computer simulation, creating a baseline for potential savings.

Next, the energy master planning team calculated potential savings from a variety of modifications, taking into account the current efficiency, operation and control costs of relevant equipment. The data were then analyzed to find the most effective modification options. Some of the potential energy efficiency measures (EEMs) had effects on other modifications. To predict these complex, interconnected savings, Johnson and her team used an industry standard: the U.S. Department of Energy’s DOE2 Energy Analysis program. A master list of the EEM recommendations was presented in a detailed report to MCCCD, along with potential up-front costs, savings and payback periods for each item.

Additionally, the team reviewed utility rate structures, an important cost savings opportunity because of deregulation and competing utility vendors. The 12-campus MCCCD network was being served by two electricity vendors with five different rate structures, and a single natural gas vendor with three gas rates. These existing utility contracts and rate structures were closely examined for potential economies through consolidation, single point monitoring and even commitment to a single vendor after deregulation.

Project implementation financing was also carefully reviewed in the master plan. Since it’s a government institution, all MCCCD’s financial decisions are subject to public scrutiny. MCCCD college administrators needed a financing strategy that would allow them to make capital improvements now for future benefits, and set campus project priorities based on true need vs. local political agendas. Financial specialists researched and outlined various grants, incentive and rebate options and helped MCCCD apply. In the end, MCCCD recaptured more than $172,000, which justified the total energy master plan costs. Long-term savings are being watched closely. The phased master plan implementation approach put MCCCD college campuses on a 10-year plan.

College campuses can benefit greatly from energy master plans that consider their student and teaching populations, campus layout and facility use requirements. But it takes an integrated, owner-involved team of facility design, construction and operation specialists, and financial and energy procurement analysts to identify and then effectively implement the savings opportunities. Even campuses spread miles apart can embrace the same techniques and tools to cut energy costs and develop a positive cash flow.

Susan Zeloznicki is a Tempe, Ariz.-based communications consultant specializing in higher-education issues.