Public Sector Buildings Capitalize on Energy Efficiency

July 31, 2014

Energy efficiency projects throughout the public sector are slashing energy costs and demonstrating a variety of technologies. In some cases, the savings can amount to better than 50%, and paybacks can be swift. How are these projects accomplished? Let’s take a look at the methods and technology behind these projects, because, public or private, they’re available to building and facility managers. And we’ll peek into the future for a look at a technology most any building could use-a power source that claims it will deliver 1 million watts of power from a generator just 1 cubic foot in size.

In the GSA
If there’s one federal agency raising the flag for amazing achievements in energy efficiency, it’s the US General Services Agency (GSA). In 2012, the GSA issued a competitive challenge to Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) to innovatively improve the energy performance of 30 GSA-owned buildings. One of the competition’s winners, Ameresco Inc., is now developing a comprehensive ESPC for more than 1 million square feet of office space at the New Carrollton Federal Building in Lanham, MD, and the Silver Spring Metro Center 1 building in Silver Spring, MD.

The $45 million Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) is expected to reduce energy consumption by 60%, according to Nicole Bulgarino, vice president, Federal Solutions, Ameresco. That’s a significant reduction by most anybody’s standards, and even exceeds the GSA’s target of a 50% reduction. She terms it a “deep retrofit,” with many challenges to consider when executing such a project.

“It really just depends on how much work is done to the building and the limitations,” says Bulgarino. “We were able to look holistically at all the systems, both mechanical and electrical. We’re using an advanced building control system that has a very good level of control, and we’re tying it into the building’s operations and occupancy rather than just set points. So, it wasn’t just a matter of installing light fixtures. The lighting controls are integrated with the HVAC system, so you’re seeing the lighting savings and controlling the heat and air for the building while it’s coordinated with the occupancy.”

Photo: ABM
Camp Pendleton had goals such as using products that would qualify for utility rebates and provide reduced maintenance, plus comply with Dark Sky regulations, and incorporate dusk-todawn automated controls.

The system also tracks energy usage and trending, so Ameresco will have long-term measurement verification. “The buildings managers are excited because energy data collection is good for planning and helps with operations and maintenance,” adds Bulgarino. “Now they have standards to apply this to all their buildings as a platform with a consistent control system and data collection.”

Savings in the first year are expected to be over $2.8 million. Upgrades to both buildings include more than 2,000 sensors capable of sensing occupancy and ambient light. The system will automatically adjust the output of roughly 11,000 new, individually addressable LED lighting fixtures, to match current conditions. The new lighting control systems integrate into existing and new control systems, allowing the HVAC systems to heat and cool only occupied spaces. A new central chilled water plant uses two new high-efficiency chillers and one new chiller heater to generate hot water for space heating as well as domestic hot water. Additionally, the new design incorporates a geothermal well field for heat rejection, increasing the chillers’ efficiency, while decreasing water consumption.

At the New Carrollton Federal Building, Ameresco will construct an 808-kW solar canopy to cover all unshaded areas of its north parking lot. The solar array is a custom designed structural system in an amphitheater-themed layout. It will provide shade to parked vehicles and will be surrounded by new rain gardens to support existing stormwater catch basins. Ameresco will install a 67-kW carport structure in the south parking lot facing the New Carrollton Metro Stop. A new solar thermal heating system will also be installed on the building’s roof.

“We are seeing more federal agencies adding renewable energy and onsite energy to their list of requirements and you want to have energy onsite to further reduce dependency on the utility and provide more renewable energy to meet federal goals,” explains Bulgarino. “For this project we’re installing solar heating and solar PV in the parking lot. It’s almost one megawatt, and it’s close to an Amtrak and Metro rail, so it promotes public awareness of alternative energy. We’re seeing a lot more talk about microgrids, and renewable energy or cogeneration can tie in with storage and other opportunities, so you can increase your demand response and peak shavings opportunities. We’re definitely looking at cogeneration, especially the trend in natural gas prices and the difference between the prices for grid electricity. Most of these agencies really want energy security, and if they can have three megawatts of power onsite that’s of value to them.”

The GSA also awarded a contract to McKinstry, an energy consulting and construction services company. The company audited 5.8 million square feet of GSA facilities in the Rocky Mountain Region and recently launched an energy conservation project that saves the GSA $15 million in energy costs and avoids an additional $3 million in operating expenditures over a 20-year performance period. The company’s services have also found favor with the city of Corpus Christi, TX, where it’s implementing a citywide energy efficiency, clean air, and sustainability plan. Now in its second phase, the $7.7 million project addresses 76 city facilities, but looking deeper into the definition of “facilities,” we find some surprising diversity.

“In a large city you’ll find that these facilities can include the city hall, fire stations, parks and recreation, and more,” says Rich Oliver, business development manager at McKinstry. “So, in Corpus Christi’s case, there were actually 200 buildings within these 76 facilities. Often a city has a limited staff, so it’s easier to take on these projects in phases. We started with the seven largest energy consumers in about ten different facilities, so they would be comfortable taking on that challenge over a couple of years.”

Opportunities for efficiency upgrades included lighting and HVAC (with an emphasis on replacing aging gas-fired chillers with new electric driving models) and, importantly, the development of an energy management program. “Corpus Christi did not have a citywide energy management or building automation system,” notes Oliver. “They had some bits and pieces, but they weren’t connected, so we are working to give them a facility management services group because it allows them to be better managers.” Future plans include analysis of participation in demand response programs and deployment of distributed energy resources.

Credit: Network Thermostat
Thermostats linked to the Internet become Energy Management Systems.

All told, these projects demonstrate how the latest in technology can achieve significant gains in energy efficiency. However, what if your building or facility doesn’t have a budget of $45 million? The good news is that efficiency gains are still possible, and they can be achieved by introducing individual technologies, one step at a time. For example, there are appreciable savings to be gained just by upgrading your building’s thermostats. In fact, some thermostats can accomplish many of the tasks possible with a sophisticated building management system.

“It’s a technology that bridges the gap between programmable thermostats and a building automation system,” says Jerry Drew, president, Network Thermostat. “This is all about how many HVAC units that you have and controlling them efficiently. When you try to manage something like a school system with a couple of hundred to several thousand HVAC units, you need an efficient mechanism. Are you going to walk up and program them by standing in front of each one? That’s where the Internet technology and Web technologies are moving the thermostat into an energy management system. It allows us to connect PC-based software so a manager can drag-and-drop schedules, point and click, and put an entire school system or government building on a vacation schedule so they don’t have to worry about having a Friday or holiday off. They can point and click and schedule it in advance and manage hundreds in four or five seconds.”

In late 2013, Network Thermostat launched two new IP thermostats, the UP32H-IP and the UP32H-WIFI. Both are equipped with an intuitive interface and web engine. The web server automatically detects the device type (PC, Mac, tablet or mobile phone), makes the required connections and delivers either full webpages (PC, Mac, or iPad), or mobile pages (iPhone or Android phone). The UP32H platforms include the exclusive Net/X Advanced Remote Sensor Bus for attaching up to 11 remote sensors for monitoring of up to six different sensor types. Each device includes an integrated humidity sensor for monitoring and controlling humidification or dehumidification locally or remotely over the Internet. With humidity control and the communications technology and power of the processors, a device as simple as a thermostat becomes virtually an entire energy management system.

“Let’s say you have a school building that has a commercial kitchen,” says Drew. “With the thermostat’s other sensors you could monitor walk-in freezers, display cases, and refrigeration units. One of the biggest fears of any efficiency manager is returning to work on a Monday morning and finding that a breaker was tripped on Friday, and they have thousands of dollars worth of frozen food that has spoiled. But these thermostats have e-mail and text message alerting so you can set alerts on every unit.”

For flexible humidification /dehumidification control, the UP32H has integrated or external humidity sensor monitoring and humidification/dehumidification control. This serves applications where humidity control is required, and the flexibility to replace a thermostat and add an NT-HUM external humidity sensor where humidity monitoring and control is actually needed, such as an IT room, wine cellar, surgery rooms, storage rentals, or clean rooms. The units also incorporate the Weatherbug weather-monitoring platform to provide outside temperatures without a sensor, plus full current weather conditions, and seven-day forecast from the browser.

“Weatherbug is a benefit, because their forecasts give you data such as a freeze alert,” says Drew. “In fact, with the weather data, rather than using it for humidity control, you can use the output function for a damper control. So you could use that as a fresh air damper that could be triggered by an additional relay to the unit and turn it into an economizer. If the humidity range and temperature are acceptable, it can open up the outside damper and allow the cool air to be pulled into the space for efficient cooling, rather than relying on the compressor.”

Mitigating the Sun’s Heat
Heat gain from sunlight passing through windows is another factor in the cost of running HVAC systems, but it’s also an opportunity to improve efficiency, especially if the heat is stopped at the glass, rather than trapping it between interior blinds and the windows, according to Neil Sbar, vice president of energy and technology applications, SageGlass. SageGlass manufactures electronically tintable glass for windows, skylights, and curtain walls. The tinting dynamically controls sunlight and glare without shades or blinds while maintaining the view and a connection to the outdoors. It manages a building’s sunlight and heat gain, significantly reducing energy consumption while improving environmental comfort and well being at the touch of a button or automatically via a building automation system.

“Tinting glass allows you to reject the solar heat gain right at the window before it gets into the building so the HVAC system does not have to deal with it,” says Sbar. “Interior blinds or shades can’t do that and even though exterior blinds and shades reject the heat outside they limit the view and light.” The SageGlass products can operate manually or with a building management system, where the integration can have a significant impact on energy efficiency.

“You’re balancing your resources to maximize daylighting while relieving the load of the air conditioning and HVAC,” notes Sbar. “There’s a synergy between the dynamic glass and the building’s automation systems, and to achieve the function I just described you don’t have to have any connection between the lighting system and the glass because a sensor could be independently controlled to keep the light level at the optimum point. But you can have an occupancy sensor and a connection with the HVAC system working together.”

According to Doug Horner, AIA, building program manager at Chabot College, Hayward, CA, the college’s new Community and Student Services Center earned a LEED Platinum rating by incorporating SageGlass with several advanced design elements, all working together to provide a thermally comfortable space without glare, and without the use of a mechanical ventilation system.

“We can tint down to 1% transmission with a solar heat gain of 0.09,” says Sbar. “A skylight application has the most impact, and in a couple of cases we’ve had applications for putting glass in patio areas and skylight roofs over a rooms where there’s just too much solar energy coming in and the heat made the rooms unusable. Take a place like Minnesota where you have hot summers and you have to size the HVAC for that peak part of the year, but the rest of the year it’ll be used much less. That’s a perfect example of peak load leveling and the impact on upfront capital cost. You can size HVAC to a lower load capacity because of the tinted glass.”

Generated Heat Utilized
While solar heat gain can be a problem for the typical office building, there are many facilities that need heat for manufacturing processes, or for operations relevant to facility’s purpose. In such cases, a combined heat and power (CHP) generation system offers many benefits, according to Tom Drake, gas power systems sales, W. W. Williams, an authorized MTU Onsite Energy Gas Systems distributor. Recently Williams supplied The Medina City School District with an MTU Series 400 CHP system that produces 125 kW and generates electricity and heat from natural gas. The CHP unit can offset more than one million kilowatt-hours of purchased electricity per year, saving an estimated $82,944 annually in electrical costs. Heat from its exhaust and jacket water system create 740,000 BTU per hour, to offset heating costs within the facility.

The project began when Medina commissioned the Brewer-Garrett Company, a commercial energy efficiency services provider, to conduct an analysis that focused on renewable energy, including wind and solar. “Medina had a recreation center at their high school with a large electrical and heating load,” says Eric Betz, project manager, Brewer-Garrett. “We looked at solar, but it hasn’t been a great return on investment because of the lower levels of sunlight and the very low electrical rates in Ohio. Wind is even more costly, and you have maintenance costs. For public schools we look at a 10- to 15-year term, and solar was upwards of 15 years; wind was 25 or 30.”

With the CHP system, Medina capitalized on the low-cost of natural gas and a reduction in higher electrical rates. “We can run it 95% of the time, so the ROI was very good, even though we don’t have any government incentives to consider,” says Betz. “Net metering from the utility is not really desirable here, so we were able to design the electrical system behind the meter, and the thermal output matched up very well with the existing system in temperature requirements.”

According to Christian Mueller, Sales Engineer Gas Power Systems MTU Onsite Energy, the system arrived at Medina as a self-contained “plug-and-play” unit and requires minimal oversight from the school’s staff. “We can monitor the internal operation of the engine, as well as the external operations” says Mueller. “If anything goes wrong, it will adjust to the new circumstances or just shut down automatically. We can then log on to the system and correct the problem remotely if possible.”

Lighting Considerations
Many schools and other government facilities have extensive exterior lighting systems, and they too can offer significant opportunities for energy efficiency projects. For example, let’s look at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in San Diego, CA. With more than 100 buildings and 1,600 inefficient exterior lighting fixtures, the base was a prime candidate for improvement when it issued a request for proposals on a lighting upgrade. Also, it was eligible for incentives from the local utility, San Diego Gas and Electric. However, the project wasn’t without its fair share of challenges.

The base had a hodgepodge of lighting fixtures, including fluorescents, flood lamps, and high-intensity discharge fixtures. Moreover, there were many instances of poor placement and neglected maintenance. All in all, it was definitely in need of an update, according to Bruce Price, government projects manager, ABM Electrical and Lighting Solutions, Irvine, CA. “A lot of buildings around the base are very old, and they had lighting controls such as time clocks and photocells, but nothing uniform. There was no system of interconnection, so it was building by building. Yet, they wanted to standardize and save energy and improve light levels.”

The base had additional goals that included using products that would qualify for utility rebates and provide reduced maintenance, plus comply with Dark Sky regulations, and incorporate dusk to dawn automated controls. An LED lighting solution met the goals and delivered on something equally important, an attractive return on investment.

“We installed 20-watt LED fixtures; so, for an operation schedule of 4,000 hours a year, we calculate a payback of 5.9 years,” says Price. “But that doesn’t include the maintenance and repair savings, which is nearly $22,000 a year. Then there’s the rebates that could reduce it to four years.”

Backing Up for Blackouts
The Scripps Ranch Community Recreation Center isn’t far from Camp Pendleton, and it offers an interesting example of using efficient renewable energy and battery storage for emergency back up power. In recent years San Diego has been plagued by blackouts caused by wildfires, and Scripps designated the recreation center as an emergency command center, then contracted with Princeton Power Systems to install its Energy Storage Solution, for emergency preparedness and access to electricity. They system includes a solar array, inverters, advanced lithium-ion batteries, and a PPS Site Controller. The ability to maintain power during a blackout and operate as an islanded microgrid was important, says Darren Hammell-Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder at Princeton Power Systems.

“San Diego residents gravitated to the Scripts Community Center in 2010 during the wildfires to get shelter and food,” explains Hammell. “Although the community center already had a solar array, ironically, this solar installation and most others are not designed to work when the grid isn’t there. We installed a battery bank and some electronics so the existing solar array can run the facility off of batteries that are charged by the array. San Diego is far ahead of the curve on this energy issue, but once Hurricane Sandy rolled through the Northeast that opened everybody’s eyes to the need for emergency power driven by alternative energy resources like solar. It’s important to note that these systems can save a lot of fuel that would otherwise be needed for backup systems, and fuel is hard to transport when there’s a disaster like Sandy.”

Photo: MTU
CHP system at a Medina city school

Microgrids for Power Security
As Bulgarino of Ameresco mentioned earlier, many government agencies are looking at the benefits of microgrids. For example, Lockheed Martin recently commissioned a grid-tied microgrid at Fort Bliss, TX. Energy efficiency and the ability to maintain operations during a grid failure were key factors in the project. It was funded by the Department of Defense’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program and will provide data to transition microgrid technologies into a range of applications, such as defense installations, universities, hospitals, and commercial sites. The system’s 120-kW solar array and 300-kW energy storage systems are controlled by Lockheed’s Intelligent Microgrid Control System.

According to Navigant Research, the rapid pace of development has boosted North America to a position of leadership in the microgrid industry. Across the continent, capacity in the second quarter of 2013 reached 1,459 MW, and another 1,122 MW is under development. In Connecticut, the state has funded 9 microgrid pilots to keep critical government buildings functioning during power outages. Princeton University, NJ recently launched The Microgrid Resources Coalition, and north of the US border, Canadian Solar, a company that has built some 500 MW of solar powered generation, opened the Canadian Solar Microgrid Testing Centre. In another study by Lux Research, surveyors found that a new business model is gaining traction-Microgrid-as-a-Service (MaaS). The concept offers flexible ownership options and easier accessibility.

Management of Demand
Along with leadership in the microgrid industry, North America also leads the world in demand response (DR) programs that stabilize the grid by ensuring that demand does not exceed supply of electric power. According to Navigant Research, 95% of the 1,342 DR programs worldwide are operating in North America. Cities, counties, and states are flocking to such programs and for good reason-they offer energy efficiency technology, compensation for energy reduction typically during peak energy usage hours, and avoidance of costly peak hour utility penalties.

For an example of savings at the state level, let’s visit the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the winner of the 2013 Region 1 Energy Project of the Year Award from the Association of Energy Engineers. The DOER uses a cloud-based energy intelligence application from EnerNOC. In 2010, DOER installed about 1,300 meters at 460 buildings, including university and community college facilities, hospitals, trial courts, state office buildings, and prisons. The meters stream real-time data for all energy commodities through EnerNOC’s EfficiencySMART platform, allowing agencies to track and analyze energy usage over time. State agencies and DOER use the data to identify opportunities for savings to reduce the Commonwealth’s energy costs by 5 to 15%.

Some examples of the benefits include a state university that used real-time data to identify abnormally high power usage at its campus ice rink (compared to the previous year). Changes to the building control settings saved an estimated $30,000 over just two months. At a community college, real time data analysis revealed that delaying building start-up by one to two hours could save an estimated $2,500 over the course of the year. Now, how about an equally impressive example of a specific demand response application?

In Florida, the Ybor City District Cooling plant enrolled in a DR program offered by EnerNOC and its local energy provider, Tampa Electric Company (TECO). During DR dispatches, plant operators raise the temperature of the plant’s chillers a few degrees for temporary periods of time. This minor change has reduced energy use by approximately 300 kW, and earns approximately $20,000 annually. Moreover, Ybor reduces its electric bill by approximately $10,000 a month by monitoring energy use with EnerNOC’s energy intelligence software.

We’ve seen that cities can address a broad spectrum of facilities and buildings with energy efficiency measures, but what about adding onsite renewable energy? In the case of New Jersey’s Union County, a 15-year solar power purchase agreement (PPA) from Tioga Energy allowed the county to install 3.34 MW of solar electric systems, across 30 separate sites. These are primarily rooftop systems, ranging in size from less than 10 kW to almost 500 kW. They provide solar electricity to a variety of municipality owned facilities including area schools, libraries and a community center for senior citizens. Tioga helped the Union County Improvement Authority to combine low-interest municipal bonds with solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) sales and federal tax incentives. Tioga Energy will sell the electricity generated by the systems to the county at rates that are approximately 50% lower than those of the local utility, enabling significant savings and a hedge against electricity pricing volatility.

Important Disruptions
Price volatility from electric utilities has been a source of significant expense for the public and private sector, especially in cases of peak rate charges that can add thousands of dollars to electricity bills. Peak shaving with onsite or distributed energy offers a method for countering the expenses, and a more efficient form of generation because the end users don’t suffer from power losses due to long transmission distances. However, the expense and engineering requirements (such as adequate space and construction) can create barriers for some locations. But what if the space requirements were minimal, the power output unlimited, and the fuel source was water? We promised a look at a new technology, so welcome to the cutting edge science of Hydrino energy, from Blacklight Power.

First I’ll say that the government and private industry alike are seeking to discover the kinds of technologies that Arun Majumdar, vice president of energy for Google and former director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created by the Obama administration, says place users into new paradigms. ARPA focuses on incubating transformational energy research and development, something BlackLight’s funding partners also affirm.

According to Dr. Randall L. Mills, founder and CEO, BlackLight has developed a commercially competitive, nonpolluting source of energy that forms a predicted, previously undiscovered, more stable form of hydrogen called “Hydrino.” A plasma-producing cell uses a catalyst to cause hydrogen atoms of water molecules to transition to the lower-energy Hydrino states, resulting in a release of energy in the form of light. “This is a disruptive, game changing technology,” says Mills. “We’re creating the same solar spectrum of light, but at 50,000 times the Sun’s intensity at the Earth’s surface. The optical power is converted directly into electricity using commercially available, very high-power, high-efficiency photovoltaic cells. This product can be manufactured with off the shelf technology, and we’re planning on having product available in about a year.”

Such a product could radically alter the energy efficiency potential of buildings in both the public and private sectors. Even with all the energy efficient technologies we’ve seen so far, none can improve on an inefficient utility and the losses that occur during transmission over long power lines. (Many thousands of miles of these lines are aging and their power losses are growing.) However, by providing economical distributed energy resources that don’t use power from an inefficient utility, a building can boost its power efficiency performance much further. Solar panels are considered to be a one of the most environmentally friendly solutions, but their space requirements create limitations.

Now Mills says there’s a power source that can surpass solar’s benefits, in a fraction of the space. “A typical solar farm is often about 250 acres, but now we can translate that to a very small footprint. It’s very scalable and you can make very small photocells and very small mechanical systems and you could power the entire Empire State building with something that takes of less than one square cubic foot of space.”

Sure, it sounds radical, but a prototype is functioning, and it wasn’t too long ago that photovoltaics and wind energy were seen as radical game changing technologies, yet their disruptive impact on the centralized power industry continues to grow. Ultimately, history is filled with revolutionary power technologies, and revolutionary energy efficiency technologies. The good news is that products and services for energy efficient building operations are-and continue to become-available.
About the Author

Ed Ritchie

Ed Ritchie specializes in energy, transportation, and communication technologies.

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