University of Virginia Task Force Implements Energy Savings

February 18, 2009

February 18, 2009 — Energy conservation is not just for new buildings. The University of Virginia is re-examining energy use and efficiency in its existing buildings and "retro-commissioning" older structures to increase their sustainability.

"In retro-commissioning, we go back through a building, upgrade it for efficiency and make sure everything is operating at peak performance," said Ed Brooks, energy and utilities metering manager at Facilities Management.

Facilities Management has assembled a team of experts in various fields of building operations, such as heating and cooling technicians and electricians, to perform the examination and retro-commissioning. The team is dubbed "Delta Force."

"There is a phrase in engineering jargon called 'Delta T' which means 'differential temperature,'" Brooks said. "That was our first issue, so we thought that would be a good name for the team."

Delta Force targeted Medical Research Building 4 as its first project. Built in 1984 with 194,000 gross square feet of space, it is an "energy hog," Brooks said.

Some fixes were simple, such as replacing old pipes in which mineral build-up had reduced water flow and the efficiency of radiating either heat or cold. The team replaced control valves in heating and cooling systems to improve flow control. Team members also found that making small changes in one area could improve efficiency in the whole system. The retro commissioning so far has cost around $82,000.

"The MR4 effort has paid off," said Cheryl Gomez, director of energy and utilities for the University. "We are using anticipated energy savings as the source of funds. We also spent some deferred maintenance funds to replace some equipment that would have been replaced anyway."

"In the last nine months, we have found that chilled water usage is down by 40 percent and heating energy usage is down by 14 percent," she said. . "At our 2008-09 rates, this equates to $388,000 in savings."

At the same time, electricity usage at the building has held steady and water use has increased, which Gomez attributes to a recently installed magnetic resonance imager — currently the largest in the country — which has a dedicated cooling system.

"We should look at opportunities for hooking up research and clinical equipment to our chilled system instead of opting to use dedicated, stand-alone cooling systems for this type equipment," Gomez said.

Service requests and minor work orders in MR4 are down by almost 20 percent, said Doug Rush, buildings and grounds supervisor for the Health System physical plant, whose maintenance team implemented many of the improvements. 

While many of Delta Force's changes have involved complex systems, more ordinary areas were also examined.

"We are also looking into possible new work on lighting retrofits, water, stormwater and recycling," she said.

The process of retro-commissioning MR4 has taken about a year.

"We are going though all the systems," said Elizabeth "Libba" Bowling, an energy engineer with Facilities Management. "The idea is that after the building is done, we will have revamped the whole thing."

As the work on MR4 continues, Bowling said that other buildings on Grounds will also be put through the energy audit and undergo their own retrofits.

The other members of Delta Force for MR4 are Mark Roach, Utility systems  distribution manager at Facilities Management; Scott Martin, a computer systems senior engineer;; John Rainey, director of the Health System's physical plant; Mark Utz, deputy director for operations for the Health System physical plant; Brenda Roach, a systems control center operator for Facilities Management; Doug Rush, buildings and grounds supervisor for the Health System physical plant, and Tim Scruby, a senior controls, commissioning and mechanical engineer with Facilities Dynamics, a building controls consulting firm.

— By Matt Kelly