Setting an Efficient Example
Campuses and schools are serving as “living laboratories” for model efficiency and future energy challenges.
By Carol Brzozowski
College campuses have turned the spotlight onto solar energy. Many of those projects are winning top honors as well as inspiring students to take what they learn about energy efficiency on campus and apply it in their future endeavors.
Arizona State University
Arizona State University (ASU) recently received the Solar Partner of the Year award from the Solar Electric Power Association. The award recognizes the value a solar partner can bring a utility in the development and/or implementation of a solar project.
ASU has been one of the earlier adopters of solar power. Its solar installations are facilitated, in part, by the Arizona Public Service Renewable Energy Incentive Program. “Our first installation was in 2004,” says David Brixen, associate vice president of facilities development and management in the department of Facilities Development and Management Administration at ASU. “At the same time, one of our faculty members had their class do a survey of rooftops on the Tempe campus to determine which rooftops would be good candidates for solar installations.”
The survey concluded 38 rooftops would qualify. “Our staff took that information and, in 2007, did our own survey partnered with some solar companies, and we expanded that to the point where Arizona State University became a leader in sustainability,” says Brixen.
ASU President Michael Crow was one of the founding members of the American Colleges and University Presidents Climate Commitment, Brixen says. “Part of my charge is to make sure that we’re practicing what we’re preaching,” says Brixen. “We started to develop plans to do a significant solar system installation on all of our campuses.”
Currently, ASU has installed more than 12 MW of solar systems on three out of four of its campuses. The university had another 2.1 MW in installation at the end of 2011.
The owners/integrators of the systems include Ameresco Southwest, CarbonFree Technology, Integrys Energy Services, NRG Energy, and Solar Power Partners. Strategic Arizona Public Service (APS) is the utility provider for three of ASU’s campuses. APS and the Salt River Project have provided incentives for the systems.
“They offer production-based incentives that we have qualified for that help us pay for these solar installations,” says Brixen. “All of our solar installations are owned by third parties. We agree to purchase the energy the systems produce.”
ASU requires each installation have the ability to collect, analyze, and display performance data. “We have all sorts of different kinds of manufactured systems in our solar installations—just about every panel manufacturer out there is represented on our campus,” notes Brixen.
ASU has a campus metabolism system, an interactive Web tool that displays real-time energy use on campus that was created by the Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU. “Each of our solar installations reports into that system,” says Brixen. “People can go in on a real-time basis and see what a particular building is consuming in terms of electrical energy, natural gas, chilled water, and the like.”
The installed solar systems are now providing 7% to 10% of the total energy consumed by the university. While the third parties paid the upfront investment for these systems, the multiple agreements ASU maintains vary in price points, Brixen says.
“In general, we’re paying a little bit of a premium now based on the electrical energy we could purchase from the utility, but most of our agreements have fixed pricing for the next 20 years,” he explains. “We anticipate that the utility rates will exceed the rate we pay for the solar energy within the next few years.”
There have been some challenges placing solar systems on the rooftop of parking garages, Brixen says. “We needed to make sure when we put a solar system on a building roof that the building roof is structurally capable of supporting the solar system, and that the roof itself is relatively new so we won’t have to move that system to reroof over the next 20 years,” he adds.
“Also, some rooftops aren’t very good based on their location or the equipment that sits on the roof, as well as too much shading” he continues. “If it’s not a candidate in terms of shading, we won’t do it.”
Some of the solar systems are serving as “living laboratories” for students, Brixen says.
And he believes ASU is regarded as one of the leading universities in the use of green energy. “We have 300 days of sunshine in the state, and, since we got started in our program, there have been a lot of different school districts and other entities that have installed solar in the state of Arizona.”
San Diego State University
San Diego State University (SDSU) recently completed the installation of a 355.9-kW solar photovoltaic (PV) energy system. The PV capacity is 403.2 kWdc @ (STC), with a 355.94 kWac CEC Rating with an electricity production of an estimated 589,760 kWh. The system is expected to produce a carbon offset of 240,524 pounds annually. The system entailed 1,680 Kyocera KD240GXLPB modules with an Advanced Energy 333-kW (480-V) inverter. The system was arranged in four subarrays, each with combiner boxes with integrated disconnects.
The PV system was a retrofit on the roof of an existing parking structure, which serves as a platform for the PV modules. The energy generated from the system is being used to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification requirements for a new student union building on campus and is offsetting its electrical consumption. The project was conceived and funded by the Associated Students of San Diego State University as part of its new LEED Platinum Aztec Student Union.
“The impetus for this project was to provide the renewable energy as part of student union,” says Glen Brandenburg, sustainability advisor for the Associated Students of San Diego State University.
Associated Students is a non-profit auxiliary of the SDSU campus. The new Aztec Student Union has been in the works for six years. “In its final iteration about two years ago, it was approved by the students to be a LEED Platinum facility,” says Brandenburg. “We started the process of making a reservation for the solar and getting all of the different permits and permissions.”
Construction took place over the summer 2011 and was completed in September.
Kyocera Solar manufactures the PV modules selected for the project. Independent Energy Solutions (IES) of Vista, CA, was responsible for the design/build of the project. IES provides turkey renewable systems and services, including PV (solar electric), on-grid/off-grid, design/build, procurement, project management, retrofits and decommissioning, conventional generation, battery storage, infrastructure, and maintenance. The company serves the commercial, industrial, public agency, military, education, and utility markets.
“Their product performs incredibly well and tends to out produce their ratings,” says Troy Strand, Chief Operating Officer of Kyocera Solar PV modules.
The system also has minimal maintenance and a long-term warranty, Strand says. Kyocera’s local presence was a benefit to the project. An added benefit was its creation of green jobs, he adds, pointing out that the project entailed 4,625 hours of work for a crew of up to 50.
One of the benefits of such projects for school campuses is the reduction of operating costs, he explains. “Every kilowatt-hour this produces is a kilowatt-hour they do not purchase, which means they now have money for facilities and services for the students.”
Strand says his company’s design/build utilizing the top of a parking structure takes advantage of “dead” real estate. “If you can elevate something above the car, shade the car, and generate electricity, that is a win-win. It’s a dual use of land—I love it.”
Strand says there were some challenges getting the system tied into the existing parking structure and ensuring it met the cost targets, as well as codes and the quality standards of IES and the university.
The parking structure is an older structure that was seismically retrofitted several years ago, Strand says. “The building codes have changed,” he adds. “The challenge for us was supporting this PV array, this new structure, into the structural element of the parking building.”
To address that, Strand says IES assembled a solid engineering team comprised of the company’s internal engineering department as well as a subcontractor structural engineering firm—KPFF—and one of the area’s leading steel fabricators, M Bar C Construction.
“The biggest lesson I learned is involve your entire engineering team sooner,” says Strand. “You can then mitigate unforeseen cost impacts to your project due to existing structural conditions.”
He says one of the benefits of the project being installed at a university is how it serves as an example to students of what can be done for energy usage, as well as energy generation going forward. He points out that the students took a holistic approach.
“They didn’t just look at energy,” he says. “They looked at the impact on the environment of the building material selected for the student building, which also reduces the impact on the roads and reduces energy consumption. They have LEED building, and they’re using local products. There’s a big commitment by the student body at SDSU to lead the nation, and to lead locally.”
There are benefits and drawbacks to using parking garages for solar, Brandenburg notes. “We’re a small campus of only about 350 acres with a student population of about 35,000, so it’s quite densely developed,” he says. “There isn’t a lot of what you might think of as extra space, so we had to look at the different options. We’re also doing a solar array of 250 kilowatts on the top of our 76,000-square foot recreation center. The positive of a parking garage is it is space that is not used for anything else, so we got the university to allow us to use that space for this array—it is a perfect multipurpose use.”
The disadvantage is that it’s substantially more expensive than installing a solar array on a roof, “because you have to actually build a roof even though you’re building just a structure,” says Brandenburg. “It has to withstand earthquakes and winds, so you have to build it quite substantially, and that’s not cheap. You have to be able to pay that premium to utilize that space.”
That also means the return on investment (ROI) for the project will be 14 years, longer than the average solar project.
SDSU produces its own electricity through a combined heat and power (CHP) plant on campus. “They sell that electricity to us, so we get a credit for that electricity that we produce,” says Brandenburg, adding that the first credit obtained was $6,000 for the month of October.
The $103 million project was financed with bonds through the state of California, with student fees paying back the bonds over the next 30 to 40 years, Brandenburg says. Additionally, the operating budget of the Associated Students will be reduced by the amount of electricity produced.
Brandenburg says the solar installation was challenging from the standpoint that it was a 30-year-old parking structure and the details of how it was constructed were sparse. “IES did an outstanding job,” he says. “Their subcontractor was very meticulous.”
The Associated Students Council’s board of directors passed two sustainability initiatives with the first being that all buildings will be net energy zero by 2020, and the other that all existing buildings would be LEED operations and maintenance certified by 2020.
“The students’ long-term plan to become net-energy-zero and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and to operate their building in the most sustainable way possible through the certification of the United States Green Building Council is on the leading edge of students or universities taking that level of action,” says Brandenburg.
“The students see their future 60 to 80 years in front of them, and they realize that the future of humans on earth is going to come to task in their lifetime, so I think the students view the imperativeness of action probably as seriously as anyone because they realize it’s their future,” he says.
Meeting the net-energy-zero goal by 2020 “required you to squeeze from both ends,” says Brandenburg. “You have to generate power because you’re always going to have to use power, but at the same time, you have to become as energy efficient as possible.
“Many times you’ll hear people say the cheapest watt is the watt you don’t use. However, you’re never going to be able to use no electricity. We took a dual-pronged approach where we aggressively worked on energy efficiency projects at the same time we were building renewable energy.”
University of Central Florida
Meanwhile, bright ideas at the University of Central Florida (UCF) resulted in a lighting retrofit in a parking garage which netted honors as the winner of the EPA’s 2011 Energy Star National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings. Teams featuring 245 buildings nationwide competed to save energy, reduce costs, and protect people’s health environment. The “green” parking building was the only standalone parking structure that was entered in the competition.
The winning building was the one that demonstrated the greatest percentage-based energy use intensity in a year-long period. The retrofit at Parking Garage C decreased energy use by 63.2%. Its Energy Use Intensity was reduced by 15%. The project—which began during the first quarter 2011—was coordinated by the Department of Sustainability & Energy Management in conjunction with Parking and Transportation Services.
The mission of the Department of Sustainability & Energy Management is to find ways to cut energy consumption on campus, says David Norvell, executive director of facilities for UCF. One of the department members who works on lighting—Senior Projects Engineer Eugene Roberts—had come up with the idea of retrofitting the campus garage lighting at the least amount of cost possible.
“When we’re talking about buildings, we’re trying to at least have either no impact or a positive impact on productivity,” says Norvell. “We looked at a lot of different solutions with the garage. It was important to us to do a one-for-one replacement to prevent the costs from getting out of hand.”
The lighting that was replaced was 150-W high-pressure sodium fixtures. The decision was to go with a T-5 high-output single lamp florescent fixture in fiberglass housing to protect it from vandalism and a high reflectivity mirrored surface behind the lamp.
“With a lot of light fixtures, only half of your light comes out,” says Norvell. “The bottom half will go out to the floor—the rest of it gets trapped in the fixture and generates heat.”
The replacement fixtures are “very efficient LEED-designed fixtures,” says Norvell. The 450 T-5 fixtures used in the retrofit were manufactured by Industrial Lighting Products in Sanford, FL.
Timers and light sensors also were installed. The garage retrofitting is part of a larger energy efficiency effort at UCF, which requires new buildings to be LEED-certified and existing buildings renovated in a sustainable fashion, among a host of other efforts.
“On this particular garage, there aren’t any other loads besides the lighting,” says Norvell. “After we finished the inside, we went on the outside of the garage where there are stair towers you use to get to different levels and those have exterior lighting with 150-watt, high-pressure sodiums.”
Those were replaced one-for-one with a 44-W light-emitting diode (LED) fixture. The third phase of the project was conducted on the top deck of the garage. It doesn’t have a ceiling on which to mount fixtures—there are poles instead.
“There were 400-watt, high-pressure sodium fixtures, and we did a replacement with a 236-watt LED Cooper light fixtures,” says Norvell.
He explains that the color of light is not all created equal. “High-pressure sodium is what’s called a very low temperature, a very warm color. It’s almost to the point of where it’s called monochromatic. It renders color very inefficiently. If you’re in that garage and you would see a blue car, a brown car, and a green car, they would all look the same. By going to this fluorescent and LED, we tremendously raise the color of the light so that now you can distinguish colors.”
The lighting color was a compromise, however. The university’s higher-level administrators were not fond of the reputation some florescent lights had of appearing to look “blue,” says Norvell.
“The temperature is so high that it’s unnatural looking,” he says. “That’s what they were afraid of in the garage, so we went back and forth, put up several sample fixtures, and got different people’s opinions of the color, because the administration didn’t want this stark, cold feeling on campus. They still wanted to have a warm feeling, but to get the energy savings.
“We settled on a 3,500-watt Kelvin. I was pushing for a 4,000, which is a little bit more white, and then the blues get into the 5,000s. As you get into that higher-temperature lamp, the way your eyes perceive light—they actually perceive brighter with less light.
“If I could have gotten them to agree to this higher-temperature light, we could have lowered the power density even more on the garage and produced more savings, and our eyes would perceive the same amount of light,” he says. “We settled somewhere in the middle and ended up with a 63% reduction in power.”
Norvell is pleased with the results, which he calls “dramatic.”
“I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and the administration is happy with the color, although they probably would have gone even warmer than that,” he says. “But with the savings there, they’re very happy with the project.”
UCF was able to see the reduction immediately. “One of our initiatives upfront was a system to meter our buildings,” says Norvell. “We read all of the power meters every five minutes on campus, so you can start seeing it right away. It took about six weeks to complete the project, so we didn’t realize all of the savings until we got to the end of it, and then we saw a 63% reduction on a month-to-month basis.”
While energy efficiency is a primary benefit from the retrofit, public safety has been a secondary benefit. Public safety workers like the ability to distinguish colors of cars and clothing, as it enables them to see more clearly what is going on in the garage, Norvell notes. He says campus officials “never dreamed” of winning EPA’s top honor.
“We have a lot of projects going on, so we had to select from all of these different ones,” he says. “We thought this one was going to be spectacular even though we didn’t have any data on it. We’re very honored with the results.”
Other than the manufacturing of the lighting, 100% of the project was conducted in-house, including design, engineering, and installation. The parking garage lighting retrofit was $54,000, and it was paid for in one year, Norvell says.
“That’s a pretty dramatic payback for an energy project,” he says, adding that the electricity bill went from $89,000 annually, down to $32,000.
The project was financed in-house using a rolling energy savings fund begun five years ago.
Norvell had a few energy efficiency projects in the works. Administrators told him they liked what he was doing, but wanted to speed up the process.
“I said I needed capital,” he says. “I put together a plan for them to loan me $1 million upfront to start a rolling fund of these energy projects. I told them if they could loan me $1 million, I thought I could pay it back in about a year.”
After obtaining the loan, his department hired people to execute the projects faster: an engineer, technicians, and marketing experts to spread the word.
Five years down the road, all of the one-year projects have been executed. “We prioritized all of the projects according to payback, so we executed the very quickest ones first,” says Norvell. “Now we’re into the three-, four-, and five-year projects, and everything is rolling along fine.”
The department now has $3 million a year in recurring savings that’s getting reinvested in the projects.
The students are engaged in the energy efficiency efforts on campus, Norvell says. “We always talk about setting a good example for our students,” he says. “We try to present this data to them to talk about what we’re doing in-house and how successful these programs are. We get a lot of feedback from the students, mostly positive. They want to go on tours and learn more, so we end up doing programming sessions with them.”
UCF also connects with the community at large on its energy efficiency efforts. Norvell is involved in the Central Florida Energy Efficiency Alliance, a program of the Orange County government to train small businesses on how to conduct their own energy assessments and energy audits in their facilities and teach them about the latest technologies available to help them lower their electric bill. Going forward, UCF will be working on retrofitting other garages.
“We continue to find more projects,” says Norvell. “We put buildings on a rolling schedule every four years. We go back and revisit them. We do retro-commissioning and continuous commissioning of these buildings when we go through them.”
Norvell says there are greater savings to be found in HVAC projects, probably due in part to the campus being located in a hot and humid environment. “HVAC plays a big role in energy consumption in our buildings,” he adds.
Lighting projects can be unpredictable, Norvell says. “Lighting is burn hours,” he says. “Garages are nice because they’re real predicable. Certain parts of the garage are 24/7 and some parts are 12/7, because they are influenced by the outside light. We can calculate savings.
“But we can go into an office building on campus and spend tens of thousands of dollars on lighting retrofits, and one professor might work 20 to 30 hours a week and leave the lights on in his office, and the other might work five hours in the office,” he continues. “It might be 20 years before we get the payback on that because it’s all about burn hours.”
In contrast, HVAC generates better savings numbers, Norvell adds. “With HVAC, we have to condition our buildings all of the time in Florida—otherwise we’ll start growing mold,” he says, addressing the predictability of HVAC.
UCF has set a goal to get to 15% of onsite renewables. To that end, the campus has begun construction of its own CHP plant to produce on campus about one-third of the campus energy demand.
“What I like about the CHP project is that it’s 100% powered by natural gas, which is a more clean-burning fuel than what we’re currently buying from our utility provider,” says Norvell. “Secondly, we don’t have losses in transmission.
“With CHP, we’re recouping heat from the process. We’re buying from a mix of coal, nuclear, and gas plants, and we’re buying it at 1.4 pounds of CO2 [carbon dioxide] per kilowatt-hour for our current fuel mix. On campus, we’re going to produce 1.0 using our new combined heat power plant”
Heat generated from traditional plants is “dumped into the environment,” notes Norvell, adding that the heat being captured from the new plant will be used to produce chilled water.
“That’s what we need on campus, so our overall plant efficiency is going to be more than double that initial value by recapturing the heat,” he adds. “That’s what I like about onsite generation—the ability to recapture that heat if you’re doing conventional energy sources. If you’re on renewable, there’s another good reason to do it if you have the land for it and the ability to consume everything you produce, which we do.”
Norvell says campus administrators had been concerned about vandalism.
“As it turned out, the old fixtures were mounted up inside this T-bar construction, so a lot of the light got cut off by these bars that hang down,” he says. “We lowered the fixture. We hung them on metal rods to get them down below all that structure so they could much more efficiently distribute that light.
“When we did that, the people who maintained the garages were concerned about vandalism. They said somebody was going to go in there with baseball bats and knocking the things down. Several months down the road, we haven’t had a single incident of vandalism and we don’t expect anything at this point.”
Feedback on the project has been positive, Norvell says. “We’ve had a lot of interest from other universities and municipalities—people wanting tours of the garage to learn about the retrofit,” he states. “I think there’s going to be at least a dozen projects coming out of this outside of our campus based on feedback we’ve gotten from our community.”
Haltom High School
It can be challenging to keep cool in a warm climate such as that found in Texas. Two 400-ton chillers that for 17 years had been serving Haltom High School in Haltom City, TX, had become unreliable and inefficient. In spring 2006, the Birdville Independent School District (BISD) decided to replace them during the summer in time for the start of the 2006–07 school year. The chillers had become inefficient, notes Bill Harris, vice president of education sales for Trane & Hussman Commercial Systems, Climate Solutions– Ingersoll Rand.
“The average school in the country is 40 years old,” he says. “The chillers and the infrastructure at this school were not very efficient nor conducive to a good learning environment.”
BISD worked in conjunction with consulting engineers Image Engineering Group of Grapevine, TX, and the account managers at Trane in Fort Worth and Dallas, to develop a chiller replacement plan.
“As the team developed a replacement plan for the chillers, and they started comparing life-cycle costs and the long-terms needs of the school, they recommended the EarthWise design to increase the efficiency of the equipment and downsize the mechanical footprint,” says Harris.
Trane recommended not only replacing the old chillers, but also implementing its EarthWise chiller system design strategy to maximize comfort and system efficiency throughout the high school building. The installation included Trane Model CVHF 400-ton chillers in an EarthWise series configuration with a variable-primary chilled water system, Trane Tracer Summit building automation system, Trane Free Cooling, and variable frequency drives on chillers and pumps. Trane and Image Engineering also recommended installing an automatic tube cleaning system on the new chillers to continuously and automatically clean the condenser tubes daily. The school received bonds for the financing of the system.
EarthWise optimizes the high efficiency and high performance of Trane direct-drive centrifugal chillers through a design that reduces first cost, lowers operating costs, and is substantially quieter than traditional HVAC systems, says Harris. Elements of the EarthWise system include a low-flow rate, low temperature, and high efficiency for both the airside and waterside systems, along with optimized control algorithms for sustainable performance.
Significantly less pumping energy is required by slowing the chilled water flow rate and producing colder than traditional chilled water temperatures. Supplying less airflow at colder temperatures reduces fan power requirements, reduces relative humidity in the building and results in quieter operation and improved indoor air quality. The Trane Free Cooling feature allows the chillers to produce cold water without operating the compressor motors when outdoor temperatures are cool enough.
EarthWise systems are less expensive to install and operate than conventional designs, says Harris. EarthWise’s smaller equipment and ductwork reduces design time by simplifying the HVAC layout. Trane Integrated Comfort System (ICS) control technology and the Tracer Summit building automation system ensures the EarthWise System operates at optimal performance. Compared to conventional designs, an EarthWise chilled water system reduces total cost of ownership by decreasing installation and operational costs, Harris says.
In the past five years the system has been operative, Haltom High School has seen a 20% decrease in the school’s overall energy use due to a 40% reduction in HVAC energy use (HVAC typically represents 50% of a building’s overall energy use). Haltom High School is also realizing significant savings in reduced maintenance costs. Additionally, the smaller footprint offers more usable space for the students, Harris adds.
Bill Barrow, BISD Systems Administrator, says that previously the high school had to run the chillers every day no matter how cool it was outdoors. “Now we can often operate the system in Free Cooling mode throughout the entire day in cooler weather,” he says. “The Free Cooling system and Tracer Summit building automation system make it very easy to efficiently run the school.”
BISD is the third-largest school district in northeast Tarrant County, spanning 40 miles with 32 campuses serving more than 22,400 students in the Fort Worth–Dallas Metroplex.
Harris explains that schools have special requirements. “The typical office building is designed for seven people per 1,000 square feet,” he says. “A 10% outdoor air requirement in an office building is satisfactory, whereas in a school, you’ll have 20 to 30 people per 1,000 square feet. In a typical classroom, you’re going to have 25 students, an aide, and a teacher, and the outdoor air requirement is exponentially more than an office building, so the cost comes in when you’re conditioning that outdoor air.”
Trane presented school district leaders with an “Energy Efficiency Leader Award” in August. The award was based upon the energy savings Haltom High School has been able to derive from the new system.
One of the challenges in executing the project was working around the school schedule, Harris notes. “You have to respect your contractors and lead times,” he says. “It takes a significant amount of coordination to pull this off in the short timeframe you have. This was a fairly large project.”
Thus, the system was installed over the summer when the students were out on break between the last day of summer school and the first day of the new school year.
The students have been involved in the project through special curriculum developed by Trane to teach about the system. “It’s STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] curriculum,” says Harris. “It helps them understand what’s going on and how the system works.”
At Haltom, students from shop classes were walking through the rooms after the project was completed to see what high-efficiency equipment looks like to understand more about the system.
The University of Toledo
The University of Toledo, the Ohio Department of Development’s Ohio Third Frontier and the Rudolph Libbe Companies GEM Energy Services/BHP Energy have partnered to design, develop, and commercialize a new power system expected to reduce power consumption on campus by 50% and increase electric reliability at the campus data center. The University of Toledo project will be the second green data center in the nation and the first in Ohio utilizing the specialized components GEM has assembled.
“The University of Toledo is committed to advancing alternative energy research and commercialization, and we firmly believe in leading by example, which this new technology will help us do,” says Lloyd A. Jacobs, MD, president of the University of Toledo.
The first use of the technology and packaging techniques was deployed in conjunction with IBM at Syracuse University’s Green Data Center in 2010. Syracuse University’s Green Data Center features 12 Capstone Hybrid UPS MicroTurbines that anchor a system powering the 12,000-square-foot facility. GEM’s integrated combined cooling heat and power system helps the university use 50% less energy and produce fewer greenhouse gases than traditional data centers, making it one of the world’s most energy-efficient and green data centers. That installation was made possible through a team including Capstone, IBM, Syracuse University, NYSERDA, and GEM Energy Services.
GEM and Capstone Turbine Corporation received the 2011 International NOVA Award for the Hybrid MicroTurbine Power System after its deployment at Syracuse University’s Green Data Center. The NOVA Awards honor top innovations in construction from around the world that increase quality and efficiency and reduce cost. GEM and Capstone were chosen from among 600 nominations representing 20 countries.
In September 2010, GEM Energy Services had a brainstorming session with University of Toledo officials to discuss the implementation of a power system in their campus data center. There arose an opportunity for an Ohio Third Frontier Advanced Energy Program grant for project funding. Ohio Third Frontier is a state-based economic initiative aimed at creating new technology-based products, companies, industries, and jobs.
After obtaining a $1 million hybrid loan by Ohio Third Frontier—which allowed the university to pay for half of the system—GEM began assembling and integrating the system at its fabrication facility in Walbridge, OH.
Sam Brewer, general manager for GEM Energy Services, says the constituent technology that comprises the integrated system consists of specialized components. One is a Hybrid UPS MicroTurbine manufactured by Capstone Turbine Corp., with the University of Toledo’s project being the second in the country to utilize it after Syracuse University. The Hybrid UPS MicroTurbine is the first onsite power system to integrate low-emission microturbines with a dual-conversion UPS to provide power for mission-critical loads. The system delivers uninterrupted electrical power with overall system efficiencies of 85% to 90%.
Another component is a specialized exhaust fired chiller manufactured by Thermax USA. Absorption chillers use heat instead of electricity as the energy source to generate refrigeration
Steve Braley, CEO of Thermax says the heat used by the absorption chillers is a form of low-grade energy. “Typically, waste heat is used as the energy for absorption chiller,” he says. “The waste heat at the University of Toledo is derived from the extremely hot exhaust gases generated by the Capstone MicroTurbines. Thermax absorption chillers can also recover waste heat from exhaust steam, hot water, and solar units.”
Thermax absorption chillers can be designed to use multiple energy sources to take advantage of energy sources that are available but not capable of meeting all of the needs at a site, Braley says. The refrigerant used by the Thermax absorption chillers consists of water containing a salt that is not volatile and does not harm the atmosphere.
“Thermax has developed technologies that result in very high-energy transfer efficiency, as well as the ability to chill water to less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit,” he says. “This chilled water is circulated to provide the cooling at University of Toledo where it is needed.”
There are other subsystems being integrating into the system, including a control system developed by GEM. The system’s footprint will be encompassed in a series of two standard-sized ISO-compliant containers.
“The core business we’re entering into and looking at very closely for the past several years is one in which we deploy, what we call mission-critical power systems at critical facilities,” says Brewer.
“Through the implementation of different pieces of technology such as microturbines, UPS technology, absorption chillers, heat exchangers, and other things, we’re trying to fuse them together into an integrated platform to deploy at the building or site level.”
That’s being done in a manner that reduces operating costs, because the end users are purchasing less energy from the electric utility and the resiliency of the facility is increased because they have another path with which to generate their own electricity for whatever is inside the building, he adds.
“In the case of a data center or a government facility, if the utility were to go away for days or weeks at a time, facilities with these reliable power systems have the ability to operate while that utility is absent in contrast to traditional backup diesel generators which would either run out of fuel or break down in short order for a long duration event,” says Brewer.
GEM’s project at the University of Toledo builds upon its first installation of mission-critical system technology at Syracuse University. “It was integrated in such a way that a separate mechanical space was constructed inside of the data center to house all of the technology that went into the power system,” says Brewer, adding that the system has worked well since its installation about two years ago.
At the University of Toledo, “What we’re trying to look at now is a way that we can replicate all of the advantages of that power system, but do it on a larger scale and on a more aggressive implementation time frame,” he adds.
To do so necessitated shipping all of the system components into separate containers, which can be dropped outside a facility and then rapidly hooked up. “That concept requires some creative engineering and some ways of thinking outside of the box,” says Brewer.
One of the major benefits of the system is the onsite production of electricity that allows a second pathway for an infrastructure to use electricity. “The reason why the fossil fuel or energy reduction takes place is because the central utility doesn’t have to burn nearly as much coal or whatever it’s burning to produce the electricity that the system is generating,” says Brewer.
“If you have a utility disruption, you can continue along with your core process, whatever that might be,” adds Brewer. “There are system benefits to generating electricity in a distributed manner. You get reduced congestion over the utility networks. In this case, the Capstones are extraordinarily clean burning. There’s an environmental component as it relates to reduced air pollution, which are reduced by 90% by the use of the technology.”
All of the components are expected to be sent to the university’s data center in spring 2012 to be hooked up with the system’s integration on the University of Toledo’s campus expected to be complete in late 2012. “They’re going to start saving money the day they turn it on,” says Brewer. “The system has a dollar cost and half of that cost was subsidized through the Ohio Third Frontier Advanced Energy program.”
The campus environment represents an opportunity to maximize the efficiency of the system being integrated, Brewer points out. “The University of Toledo’s data center has a cooling requirement and a critical electricity requirement,” he says. “They also have a recreational facility 200 feet away that has an Olympic-sized swimming pool and other heating needs that will use the hot water generated from this system. The use of the system’s thermal energy at adjacent facilities makes the campus environment an ideal target.”
In many ways, a campus environment resembles a military base environment, Brewer says. “Military installations around the country are looking to deploy secure power microgrid technology in order to harden their infrastructure so they can run without external power from the greater utility,” he says.
University campuses are willing hosts in embracing energy efficient technologies, Brewer says. Most university boards or management have sustainability goals.
“These integrated power systems can help them meet those energy reduction goals they’ve laid out for themselves,” he says. “The pledge to be more sustainable, use less and be more efficient is being demonstrated by the university when they do this kind of project. The students are going to see the university is doing the right thing.
“There are a couple of university presidents walking around at symposiums they give that are attended by other universities where they’re touting the advantages of these types of projects they’ve implemented,” adds Brewer. “We’re looking at doing this in more university environments; I think this is something that’s finally here to stay.”
Brewer says the system installation creates an active learning environment for the student body at the university so they can tour the installation, see how it works, and take what they’ve learned into the professions as they enter the workforce. Brewer says in the University of Toledo installation, GEM is making improvements designed to lower the overall cost for subsequent installations.
“There also are going to be included some environmental controls that enhance the performance of the system in unattended environments and harsh climates,” he says.
The installation at the University of Toledo may result in a “plug-and-play” application at mission critical facilities worldwide.
University of North British Columbia
A bioenergy project at the University of North British Columbia (UNBC) was named the top campus sustainability project in North America by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the largest college/university sustainability organization in the world.
Now, third-party testing shows the new Nexterra biomass system at UNBC has among the lowest emissions—even lower than natural gas—of any bioenergy plant in North America.
The Bioenergy Plant, supplied and installed by Nexterra, opened in March 2011 and is comprised of Nexterra’s biomass gasification technology in tandem with an electrostatic precipitator to fully clean process emissions. It was funded through the governments of British Columbia and Canada. The system gasifies sawmill residue from Lakeland Mills of Prince George to heat water, providing most of the heat for UNBC’s Prince George campus.
Phil Beaty, vice president of Strategic Relationships for Nexterra, says there is a strong forest industry in the Prince George region, and the UNBC wanted to demonstrate it was utilizing the waste from the forests as a renewable energy resource and show it could use biomass as an energy source rather than fossil fuel.
The independent testing involved the assessment of emissions for Particulate Matter (PM), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), Carbon Monoxide (CO), and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). Testing results show the Nexterra system generates emission levels that are extremely low for biomass energy systems and are equivalent to natural gas.
Measurements of particulate emissions, for example, show the UNBC Bioenergy Plant is producing emissions 18 times lower than other typical bioenergy plants and half as much as natural gas. When compared against the average emissions levels generated by 17 conventional biomass combustion plants of a similar scale built within the past decade in North America, the test results from UNBC were lower 18 times for PM, 65 times for CO, 37 times for VOC, two times for NOx emissions.
When compared against the Environmental Protection Agency’s AP-42 air emissions regulatory factors for natural gas, emissions from the UNBC biomass system were two times lower for PM, 21 times lower for CO, 11 times lower for VOC, and on par with NOx emissions. Emissions data on biomass combustion systems and BACT permit levels for natural gas were collected by Levelton Consultants, an engineering and science consulting firm.
“The airshed in the Prince George area is fairly sensitive, and we have a lot of local people who are interested in the performance of the system and, in particular, the particulate emissions,” says UNBC Energy Manager David Claus.
Jonathan Rhone, president and CEO of Nexterra, notes a growing trend among North American communities for the desire for distributed biomass heat and power solutions that do not result in the net degradation of air quality.
The biomass gasification system is expected to displace up to 85% of UNBC’s natural gas consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 3,500 tons annually.
Claus says the system was designed to have low emissions from the beginning. “This is confirmation of that design and the implementation,” he says. The province of British Columbia has set carbon emissions reduction targets of 33% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, Claus says.
“Part of that requires that all public sector organizations be carbon neutral, so reduce your carbon emissions as much as possible, and then purchase offset for the balance,” he adds. “As a public sector educator, we have to comply with that. We’re facing a need to purchase offsets for all of our carbon emissions. That’s part of the project because it uses biomass.”
UNBC wants to be a leader in renewable energy and sees the biomass system as an opportunity to offset the bulk of its heating needs, which previously came from natural gas, says Claus.
Claus points out that one of the benefits of energy efficiency projects being on college campuses are the accompanying research and the educational aspects. “We’ve been able to incorporate this project into a number of different courses,” he says. “We offer a number of different tours for our students and to the wider public. We’ve had a lot of academics and people who work on different projects from all over the continent and beyond doing the tour, and we explain how the system works and why we embarked on it.”
In terms of research, the university is examining what the system produces and how that byproduct can be used. “This is our second bioenergy project,” says Claus. “Our first bioenergy project was a wood pallet boiler that heats our enhanced forestry laboratory greenhouse. We started doing research on what we could use the ash for on that project, and it turns out it’s useful as a soil amendment that returns nutrients to the soil.”
The university is carrying on its research with the larger system. “We’re also looking at the energy efficiency of the overall system—how much energy you’re putting in, how much you’re getting out, and what the options are for increasing that efficiency for recovering the heat from it,” says Claus.
In terms of the PM, “we’re proving this can be done in an institutional context and are offering it as a template for other organizations that might be interested in doing a system like this,” he adds.
Being a public sector organization, “We’re willing to gather operational data—what it costs to operate it, both in maintenance and staffing—and we’re willing to make that data available to the other parties that are interested in this sort of a system. You don’t have to ask the technology vendor what the operating and maintenance costs may be, because essentially they have a vested interest in what numbers are published for them.”
The testing allows the university to say it’s not contributing any more to the air shed, in terms of particulates or any other pollutants than they were before,” says Beaty. “In some cases, they are lower. That’s not a typical statement that somebody who’s put in a biomass system is able to make. There’s always a concern about particulate when you put in biomass where you don’t have that issue with natural gas.”
Beaty says the value of the installation of a biomass system and a clean carbon footprint is important to the stakeholders in the university, including students and professors, and prospective students and professors. “When the university is looking to hire people or acquire students, quite often those people are looking at what the institution is doing about sustainability and carbon footprint, and whether you’re showing leadership in those areas.
“We get it often from the very highest levels in the institution that they have a serious and meaningful interest in reducing their carbon footprint and in implementing technologies and strategies that will do that for them. This is one that has a really meaningful impact,” he adds.
There also is the value of saving money, Beaty says. “It’s always less expensive to operate with biomass than it is with fossil fuel, even in today’s environment of relatively low natural gas prices.”
During a recent visit to the campus, Beaty notes that the system was delivering 100% of the thermal energy demand. “In that part of this province, it’s hydropower for electricity,” he says. “I would say that they were pretty well carbon neutral because they were using 100% biomass for energy.”
Author's Bio: Carol Brzozowski writes on the topics of technology and industry.