Trends in Green (Sustainable Innovations on Campus)

Energy Management

Public Universities face financial challenges including reduced state fiscal support and pressure to keep tuition costs low. Similar constraints are affecting private colleges, too. Achieving big savings without sacrificing educational quality is as celebrated by campus administrators as a conference championship. When pollution is reduced and sustainability goals are met, that’s a great win. One fruitful area to search for savings is operational costs, particularly utilities.

The University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) found that winning combination working with Burns & McDonnell, a hometown-based design-build firm. So far, the university has saved $10.2 million in utility costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 118,000 tons since 2008.

Identifying Cost Savings

UMKC, which enrolls more than 16,000 students, entered into an agreement with Burns & McDonnell to provide performance contracting and retro-commissioning services for 27 buildings totaling 2,000,000 square feet. The goal was to identify energy conservation cost savings sufficient to fund the proposed retrofits and cover the large capital cost of replacing the aging central chilled water plant.

“We had an imminent failure of our 35-year-old central plant that cooled 75 percent of our Volker campus,” says Bob Simmons, associate vice chancellor, Administration, for UMKC. “We had repeatedly requested funding from the state for a central plant replacement and it didn’t look like it would be approved in the timeframe we needed. We knew we had to look at a nontraditional way to accomplish our goal.”

The partnership came up with a financial model that provided the university with a chance to address its multiple needs and pay for it over time using the savings generated by the $20 million improvement project. As a result, equipment retrofits, controls programming and retro-commissioning efforts addressed lighting and plumbing systems, laboratory airflow controls, steam line repairs, over 100 air-handling units and four chillers with normal operating capacity of 2,800 tons up to a maximum capacity of 5,600 tons.

The chilled water plant was designed and constructed with all new equipment. All air-handling units (AHUs) with chilled-water coils were retrofitted with pressure-independent control valves. Improved control of chilled water in the AHUs allowed for 25 sets of tertiary pumps to be decommissioned, more efficient secondary loop pumping and air-handling unit fan variable frequency drive (VFD) operation.

Lighting retrofits across campus were implemented using T8 fluorescent fixtures and compact fluorescent fixture retrofits. Additional occupancy-based lighting and zone terminal unit controls were added later by UMKC. UMKC continues to test and implement LED lighting options on both interior and exterior light fixtures.

An aggressive measurement and verification plan emphasizes data trending and analysis to monitor performance of systems and provide the owner feedback for informed operating decisions.

UMKC also installed a 25 kW photovoltaic array, upgraded building automation control panels, and added direct digital control (DDC) to zone-level terminal units.

Accommodating Campus Growth

During the project, UMKC has grown its two campuses: the 125-acre Volker campus, and a 29-acre Hospital Hill campus for healthcare students. Two additions were built for the library, a new building came online and major remodels occurred at three other buildings. By implementing and retro-commissioning the recommended energy conservation strategies, UMKC increased the reliability of critical systems such as the chilled water, electric and plumbing systems to benefit its students, faculty and visitors.

The project also provided fiscal responsibility by paying for the retrofits out of energy and cost savings over the next 15 years. To date, the project has saved the university $10.2 million in utility charges by lowering net energy use 27 percent.

It’s been good for the environment, too. In addition to the 117,750 ton reduction in greenhouse gases (CO2), the amount of nitrous oxides has been reduced 165 tons; sulfur dioxide, 344.8 tons; and mercury, 3.5 pounds.

The $20 million budget established by the performance contracting and retro-commission contract also allotted money for the university to hire a full-time energy manager.

Simmons says the project achieved three important goals for UMKC: financial savings; stewardship, in the sense of taking better care of the university’s assets; and sustainability, by reducing greenhouse admissions.

“We decided to do our own debt-financing because we had a lower interest rate and the project has performed and met our debt service needs,” he says. “I’d encourage any institution to look at it in the context of their unique needs and resources.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Matt VanDeCreek is a project manager for measurement and verification services, commission and retro-commissioning services at Burns & McDonnell (www.burnsmcd.com).

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