By Erick Allen and DJ Hubler
The University of Utah (U of U) Health Science Campus houses nearly 4 million square feet of critical patient care, laboratory and educational space. In 2017, the U of U broke ground on several new cutting-edge buildings—totaling nearly 800,000 square feet—transforming the campus. The university realized that their existing chilled water plant didn’t have the capacity to meet the loads of these new buildings scheduled to come online.
The U of U Planning, Design and Construction (PDC) team studied how best to meet this new cooling load—either by adding new chillers at a cost of nearly $40 million, or by significantly decreasing the cooling load in existing buildings. Reducing the load in the existing buildings could be accomplished for less than $25 million and would also result in ongoing energy savings. The choice was clear, and the university set out to find a partner to help them design, build and execute these energy-saving measures.
The PDC team chose McKinstry as its partner, with a dual goal of reducing the load on the chilled water plant by at least 2,000 tons and saving enough energy in the process to pay back the capital used to fund the project within 10 years.
How did we accomplish this goal?
When the partnership kicked off in 2017, McKinstry conducted an investment-grade audit across 24 buildings on the Health Science Campus, resulting in a list of facility improvement measures focused on reducing chilled water demand and consumption.
McKinstry designed, installed, implemented and commissioned these energy efficiency measures across the Health Sciences Campus in 2018 and 2019:
- Replacing chilled water control valves
- Air handling unit improvements, including adding redundancy through fan arrays
- Implementing a new chilled water feed
- Cooling tower upgrades
- Installing precision air control valves
- Chiller plant modifications
- New centralized boiler plant
- Active Energy Management (AEM) program—providing thorough, real-time data on campus energy consumption in a dashboard format
- Transition to Sustainable Operations (TSO) services—helping the U of U’s operations staff take ownership and ensure their energy efficiency is persistent
These energy efficiency measures are projected to save the university more than $3 million annually in energy and operational costs.
How has the project turned out?
Because of the critical nature of the medical buildings on the campus, failure to reduce the loads of the plant before the new buildings came online was not an option. To establish ourselves as a true partner, McKinstry promised to refund one third of our fee if the chilled water plant did not have the capacity to meet the loads of the new buildings during the summer of 2019.
As these new buildings came online and the weather warmed up, the data showed that the energy efficiency project dramatically reduced chilled water flow while maintaining excellent performance in the buildings themselves.
Below is a chart that shows the pre-retrofit and post-retrofit flow at the chilled water plant. At nearly all outdoor air conditions, the plant is pumping nearly 6,000 gallons per minute (GPM) less than before the project commenced, while still cooling all existing and new buildings.
How will the U of U continue to save energy?
Currently, McKinstry is developing Active Energy Management (AEM) and Transition to Sustainable Operations (TSO) strategies to help the U of U maintain and track the performance of their building systems. We will also integrate asset management, warranty management, training and proactive maintenance into the university’s operations.
TSO and AEM are both critical to the success of this project. McKinstry is currently finalizing an AEM monitoring dashboard that tracks building assets and maintenance items, offering visibility (and thus effectiveness) to building operations staff. Ultimately, this effort will establish a new benchmark on the university’s campus, enhancing outcomes for all other future facility improvements.
AEM data will also help the U of U identify and address potential operational issues at an early stage if key performance indicators are not being met. Because of the 10-year payback requirement of the project, McKinstry will also be tracking ongoing project dollar savings as a key performance indicator.
TSO services help ensure maintenance staff can hit the ground running with detailed asset data and management protocols. TSO also ensures warranty repairs are captured and staff have the needed information at their fingertips—allowing energy savings to remain consistent and persistent.
What does our client have to say?
“Due to their deep experience and understanding of commissioning, energy, engineering, construction and facility operations, McKinstry has positioned the University of Utah’s Health Sciences Campus to utilize energy efficiency—in lieu of a costly central plant expansion—in anticipation of a major building expansion project,” explains Bob Simonton, the University of Utah’s Director of Capital Projects. “McKinstry is not only delivering great performance, they’re providing us with the tools and processes to ensure operational excellence.”