Controlling Rising Energy Costs

        When Walt Winter, Physical Plant director at Pensacola Junior College in Florida, conducted an internal study of campus energy cost/usage, he discovered that, from 2002 to 2006, energy costs went up a whopping 70 percent. A closer look revealed that, during that time, kilowatt usage had only gone up nine percent on this campus of nearly 28,000 students. “Our local electric utility explained that the price increases were caused by higher fuel costs and environmental upgrades, as well as a storm charge to cover recovery costs for area hurricanes,” he said.
        Winter decided it was time to do something about those costs. That something was an energy audit, conducted by Trane. It took a team of engineers about three weeks to audit 43 buildings totaling approximately 1.2M sq. ft. “We provided them with plans and specifications for the buildings and three years worth of utility bills,” he explained. “The team walked through each building and inspected all the electrical and mechanical systems.”
        The team came back with a 400-page report that “determined there was an opportunity for substantial energy cost savings at the college,” Winter said. Specifically, the audit recommended energy conservation measures that would save approximately 25 percent of annual energy costs — about $650,000 per year.
        The recommended energy conservation measures included installing unoccupied setback controls on HVAC systems; converting constant-volume air handling systems to variable air-volume; replacing older, less-efficient equipment; installing direct digital control modifications; and taking advantage of a lower-cost natural gas rate.
        After reviewing the findings, Winter entered into a 10-year energy performance contract with Trane to implement the recommended energy conservation measures and to guarantee the annual cost savings. He explained that, normally, an institution borrows the money to pay for the work, which is done in the first two years, and pays the money back, across 10 years, via energy savings.
        Pensacola administrators did not want to borrow the $6.3M that the project cost, so they chose to do the work across four years, paying as they go. “We will actually start reaping savings after first year,” Winter explained. “In the fifth year, we will realize all savings and everything will be paid.”
        Bob Nall, assistant vice president for Facilities Management at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, tells a similar story. In 2002, he chose an energy audit because some HVAC systems were old and in poor repair, and the maintenance shop was neither well led nor well trained. “We knew we had some serious issues and needed to make some changes,” he explained, noting that the 220-acre campus has more than 11,000 students.
        A team from Johnson Controls did an audit. “Their technical people scoured the campus from top to bottom (2M sq. ft. in 50 buildings) to identify all our problems,” Nall said. “They came back with a spreadsheet of buildings, projects, costs, savings, and payback period. We worked as a team to decide which projects were most urgent and which had the best payback periods.”
        The first round of work took about a year and a half and cost about $8M, with an anticipated 15-year payback period. Funding was secured by a bond and paid back via energy savings.
        Phases two and three, each valued at $2M, were subsequently completed back to back. The university has just started working on phases four and five simultaneously, one of which is for lighting retrofits and retrogrades.
        “When all is said and done,” said Nall, “we will have invested $14M in five years. So far, we have saved more than $4M compared to what we would have spent if we had not done the retrofits. This includes having added square footage, too.”
        Two interesting savings were found along the way. First, the university’s central plant was upgraded and retrofitted. Several buildings that had not already been, were connected to the central plant for improved monitoring and control of energy usage.
        Second, a thermal energy plant that had been installed but never functional was repaired and put into operation. In the night, when there is less air conditioning required in the main buildings, the central plant provides, through a central loop, the air conditioning for those buildings. It also has excess capacity to chill the water in the thermal tank. In the daytime, when the load goes up, the chilled water is pumped out of the thermal energy storage tank to supplement what is coming out of the chiller. “It saves energy because it does not require extra chillers to run in the daytime when it costs more,” said Nall.
        To keep new and old equipment in good working order for continued energy savings, administrators chose to outsource day-to-day maintenance and repair operations. “We knew we had personnel issues in terms of training and liability and technical capabilities,” Nall explained. “We have contracted with Johnson Controls for six people.”
        Both Winter and Nall are pleased with the thoroughness and results of their energy audits. In fact, Winter was surprised to learn that HVAC systems designed and installed just a few years ago are not nearly as energy-efficient as those available today. Nall learned that his campus would be able to accomplish some projects they did not believe they could, thanks to combining projects having long-term paybacks with projects having short-term paybacks to achieve an aggregate payback.
        Both men also recommend talking with a number of vendors and their clients before investing in an audit. Ask the vendor to explain how the system works, its benefits and pitfalls. Ask for an estimate of the potential for energy cost savings before you invest in a detailed energy audit.
For administrators at Pensacola Junior College and the University of Central Oklahoma, an energy audit, followed with a performance contract (or two), has resulted in a significant reduction of energy usage and, thus, a gain in energy savings. Maybe it’s time for your campus to experience an energy audit, too.

        “Our customers have a different attitude now. They seldom, if ever, complain about an HVAC system.” — Bob Nall

        “We didn’t do everything the audit recommended. We shopped for the quickest payback items for the biggest bang for our buck.” — Walt Winter