Implementing Energy Efficiency Solutions for Campus Facilities and Driving Net Zero Objectives
Marcela Ximendes

Poor management of energy consumption and wastage of energy are some of the reasons for the runaway situation around carbon emissions from facilities and integrating data through smart technologies implemented onsite are steps in the right directions says Marcela Ximenes, Head of Education Technologies at Radix.’

The world is facing on urgent crises of limiting the runaway global warming and must reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But what is less realized, and similar to most fluid consumption models, of the energy consumed by facilities in the US, 68% of the energy is actually wasted while buildings across the facilities are responsible for 80% of the energy consumption.

Research buildings or competency centres, usually present inside sprawling facilities, and legacy engineering practices for ventilation, heating and cooling, are also responsible for these runaway emission trends.

Reducing the percentage of energy wasted across the facility and making buildings more energy efficient is a good way to advance in the direction of sustainable practices helping to achieve net-zero goals.

While realising net zero goals is a multi-pronged initiative and requires multiple technology solutions and best practices, reducing consumption as well as wastage of energy needs to be the principal forward looking drivers.

Facilities managers and plant managers are the principal on-ground champions to achieve these goals. This includes conceptualizing, developing and mobilizing an engineering-led strategic energy plan that considers grid scale transmission and distribution, design of local facilities, local building design and operations, digitalization and deployment of smart energy technologies.

This will also involve the skills and experience of a technology and consulting partner to bring in the energy process re-engineering, choice of smart technologies, and implementation of smart energy solutions.

Real life initiatives

Global academic institutions are rising to the net zero challenge by signing up for the U.N.’s Race To Zero campaign. Last year, 1,050 universities from 68 countries, including 800 in the US, made commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and more have followed since.

A key driver for this change is students who want a more sustainable and secure world to grow into. Nearly 90% students believe universities could do more to reduce their environmental impact, and nearly 75% of prospective students consider their environmental commitments when deciding where to enrol themselves to build their educational careers. The Race to Zero campaign, is the largest ever alliance committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Globally, US based colleges and universities are leading the way in creating efficient and sustainable energy infrastructure in their environments. From small liberal arts colleges to large public universities and community colleges, higher education institutions are taking the lead in reducing energy consumption and deploying renewable energy technologies.

Educational campus facilities are the ground zero to lead the challenge of reducing energy consumption, since they are significant energy users.

Technology solutions

One of Radix main solutions is to optimize the heat and power generation, based on the real time demands, weather, fuel costs, equipment efficiency. This is the most impactful gain. Any technology solution that integrates and unblocks the value of data will help the management of energy demand.

Not having the right data or having scattered and inaccessible data mean. While they are the ones best suited to make the right decisions, they can only make these informed decisions if they can see and interpret the data.

Smart energy solutions typically unlock data and include real-time data visualization, performance monitoring, asset tracking, forecasting, reporting, analysis and visual representation of consumption, and enable effective decision- making.

Smart meters are placed on-site across facilities and join data that helps to visualize and measure energy demand. These trends are shown by peaks and troughs and by managing excessive peak periods the overall consumption profile can be lowered. The equipment provides information needed to efficiently manage peaks and troughs in usage, thereby reducing operational costs.

Many campus facilities are using old legacy equipment with inadequate capture and display of energy demand. This also means they have not captured data  to build energy consumption models. An indirect consequence of this is that there is no visibility of the wastage of energy.

Smart energy solutions can bring efficiency to such operations. Automated monitoring systems help to bring an end to this problem with predictive maintenance alerts and reduced downtime. Asset tracking systems can check the transmission system for overload, degradation, and vulnerabilities. This extends the assets’ lifetime and ensures on-time, on-site maintenance. These solutions will help operations and plant managers make better and more informed decisions.

Success stories

George Washington University is a prestigious private institution in an urban setting, with facilities spread over 42 acres and an enrolment of about 12,000 students. George Washington University partnered with Radix to conduct a Cogeneration Systems study to find energy efficiency gaps and improvement opportunities for its power plant.

Through hundreds of operation scenarios and different operating cost curves, several recommendations were made by Radix for the operations of the combined heat and power plant.

Radix developed a roadmap of improvements in the plant, prioritizing projects that would deliver the most impact and cost savings to the plant.

Recommendations were summarized in a cost-benefit matrix, classifying the project improvements in four categories. These were quick hit; desirable projects; potential desirable projects; and least desirable projects. Guidance was provided on the priority of the proposed improvements. New equipment was installed to enable higher operational efficiency.

The University of Massachusetts is a public land-grant research university. UMass Amherst campus is considered among the top public research universities in the U.S. and is the third-largest university campus in Massachusetts, with a student population of more than 28,000.

Radix performed an operational assessment of the UMass Amherst Campus combining heat and power plant, to better understand the physical infrastructure, the systems, and data supporting it, as well as its operations.

An energy audit was performed, by modelling the combined heat and power plant, executing simulations, and analyzing the data to find best plant settings and configuration. Energy wasted across campus was also found in this audit.

An important part of this audit is finding operational gaps, and finding ways to optimize the automatic control, supervisory system, and instrumentation.

A scenario-based advisory system was developed to function as an essential part of the UMass Amherst Campus CHP Energy Command Center.

It is important to mention that the energy audit is an input to the advisory system. Based on the optimal configuration that Radix calculated in the audit, through the real time heat and power demand, weather forecast, equipment efficiencies, and fuel and energy costs, Radix developed a user friendly interface that tells the operators how to operate the plant in the optimal way. The savings in this case were 3% of the total OPEX, or nearly 1 million dollar per year.

This tool provides information to the plant’s equipment operators and recommendations to enable the operators to keep the physical plant running at maximum possible efficiency.

The Radix approach

Radix provides a multidisciplinary team partnering with global technology leaders to provide energy efficiency solutions for facilities. Radix combines engineering, software development, automation, and industrial IT to deliver customized solutions tailored to the specific needs of a particular facility.

An operational assessment is conducted to show a facility’s infrastructure gaps that prevents data reliability, availability, and accessibility. Next, an identification analysis on how assets are checked and used, how control systems are configured and integrated, and the reliability of current instrumentation.

An energy audit using heat balance software allows the modelling of the facility’s plants. Multiple scenarios of the plant’s operations are modelled and simulated to find its best configuration in various scenarios with different heat and energy demands. These show energy-saving opportunities and classify areas of opportunity.

Most facilities receive help from the implementation of an advisory system. This system makes up a set of dashboards to offer better visibility to facility managers, management teams, and operators. These dashboards offer insights into predictive operating conditions and an intuitive framework for perfecting costs and production through various plant configurations. This allows real-time tracking of fuel costs, demand, and weather conditions.

These thoughtful implementations allow Radix to uniquely support facilities to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs within their financial constraints and without delays.

About the Author

Marcela Ximendes, Head of Education Technologies at Radix, is a leader focused on excellence in organizational management and transformation. She is passionate about developing high-performance teams fully oriented towards delivering truly valuable solutions to clients. Her innovative vision and over 15 years of experience in technology and digital transformation are foundations for generating strategic solutions capable of driving industry progress.

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