Figure 1. As this construction photo of the new plant illustrates, the health sciences campus sits on a hillside. The previous method of pumping high-temperature water (400°F) uphill to that campus was costly both in terms of efficiency and also of the capacity it demanded from the lower campus plant.
Pieter van der Have definitely has his hands full. As director of plant operations at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, he must make sure everything runs smoothly in the 200-plus buildings that are spread out over almost 1,500 acres of land. With more than 26,000 students tramping around the grounds, that's no mean feat. That number will increase significantly for a short period next year, as the campus will also house many of the athletes for the 2002 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Not only does van der Have have to make sure the day-to-day operations run without a hitch, he's also responsible for a major renovation that's taking place across nearly 5.5 million sq ft of building space across campus. The five-phase renovation began in 1997 and is expected to be finished later this year.

The result will be a new central chilled water plant on the Health Sciences Campus, as well as a satellite high-temperature water plant to serve the same area. Instead of waiting for funding to come, van der Have decided to use energy retrofits to pay for the renovation. The key to his success? Getting all the key people on board early and keeping lines of communication open.

Where to Start

It became clear in late 1997 that quite a few buildings on the Health Sciences Campus (which is the "upper campus" of the University of Utah's main campus) were going to require new chillers. Most of these buildings had their own chillers, as there was no central chilled water plant on campus.

Plant operations didn't simply want to replace the existing individual chillers as they failed; instead, they wanted to look into building a new, central chilled water plant for the Health Sciences Campus. At this time, van der Have started attending a lot of conferences and hearing about energy retrofits paying for new equipment. In consultation with others, he decided if the university could retrofit enough space, it might be able to generate enough net excess savings to help buy the plant.

After deciding that this was the preferred route, van der Have invited approximately 20 energy services companies (ESCOs) to submit proposals. That group was soon short-listed to three contractors, and from there, Viron (now CMS-Viron) was selected to perform the work.

"We received three reasonable responses, but the irony was that only one of them really understood our mission - the mission being we wanted to build a central chilled water plant for upper campus. The others were too focused on just trading quick energy savings. We wanted net energy savings - excess savings - that could be applied toward a chiller plant. Viron had done its homework and came through with a viable plan," says van der Have.

Having this viable plan made it much easier to obtain support from the university administration and its board of regents. After that, the plan had to be reviewed by the Utah State Building Board, which oversees all construction on state property, and then the plan had to go through legislative review.

"One of the things we really did right, I believe, is pulling together a task group involving critical people from on campus and off campus. We had a task group from the very get-go, which included somebody from hospital administration who could speak for their financial obligation, somebody from the main campus controller's office, we had the director of purchasing on board, we had someone from the state energy office involved, and someone from the state's division of facilities construction and management. My thinking was that if we don't have people buying into this thing on the ground floor, it's not going to fly," notes van der Have.

The Project Gets Bigger

Thanks to all the participation and support, the project did fly -bigger than ever. That's because in order to have energy savings pay for the renovation, it became necessary to add more buildings to the project.

The building that was to house the new chilled water plant, which was the primary goal of the renovation, had to be built large enough to include a satellite high-temperature water plant. That need arose as it became clear that the central high-temperature water plant, which is used to heat the campus and is located on the lower campus, was quickly running out of capacity. Even more critical, the distribution system feeding the upper campus was already at maximum capacity.

In addition, the Health Sciences Campus is located on a hillside, and efficiency was being lost as that high-temperature water (400°F) was pumped up the hill from the plant on lower campus. The system was also getting older, and the campus was experiencing more and more line breaks, which became increasingly expensive to fix.

"Our main campus high-temperature water plant was approaching maximum capacity, so we couldn't grow anymore on either main campus or the Health Sciences part of the campus. By building this high-temperature water plant on the Health Sciences part of the campus, we can basically take all that capacity that we had dedicated to Health Sciences previously and make that available for additional growth on [the] main campus," says van der Have.

The initial two phases of energy savings, which encompassed 28 buildings and 2.6 million sq ft, were enough to pay for the central chilled water plant, but they were not enough to pay for the high-temperature water plant. So the final phase of the energy retrofit became the largest phase, putting an additional 50 buildings and 2.9 million sq ft on the list, which will pay for the completion of the high-temperature water plant and an additional distribution system on upper campus.

The energy retrofits also included a number of different hvac components. For example, new variable-air volume (vav) boxes were added where appropriate, as well as different kinds of fan motors, more efficient fume hoods, and variable-frequency drives. Most notable was the upgrade or outright replacement of many of the control systems in some of the more "mature" buildings. The final package in total value, between the cost of the retrofits for those 90 buildings and the cost of the chilled water/high-temperature water plant, is about $40 million. The payback period is fairly close to 20 years.

Maintenance and Guaranteed Savings

Proper maintenance is always a key issue in cases where energy savings will be used to pay for new equipment - because if no one takes care of those new systems, there will in all likelihood be no energy savings. One of the reasons why Viron was the chosen ESCO was the fact that it trusted the university plant operations department to perform all the maintenance.

To ensure that the guaranteed savings is achieved, Viron hired a specialist to continually review the success of the university's maintenance program. That specialist can tap into the university's building automation system at any time to see how the buildings are operating. If a building doesn't perform the way it was anticipated to perform, the specialist may point out maintenance issues that could improve performance.

And van der Have likes this outside evaluation. "We have an independent review of our work. There is a fee for that, but I look at that as an insurance policy. We have our guaranteed savings, so if for some reason a building doesn't perform or their baseline calculations were wrong to begin with, we're protected," says van der Have.

In addition, van der Have says that he doesn't have enough time to go around and double-check to make sure everything has been done the way it was supposed to. Even the best maintenance crew forgets to do something every now and then, and it might not get caught until it's too late. Having an outside set of eyes and ears helps his department become better, notes van der Have.

So far, the guaranteed savings have been up and down. But that's typical, says van der Have, who says that the first year is usually used to fine-tune the systems. "The original projected savings and the actual performance have been close, I'll say that. Some buildings have been better than anticipated and in some it's been a lot less than anticipated. On the average, I would say we're running about 10% below where we ought to be in order to really hit target."

Not Everybody Happy With Renovation

Given how large the university is and how many people are on campus, it can almost be expected that not everyone will be happy with a renovation. One reason why people weren't happy was the fact that building the central chilled water plant was very disruptive. The plant is located in a fairly urban part of the campus, and buildings are quite close together. It was a major challenge to bury those huge chilled water lines in the ground along with all the existing utility systems.

"We ticked off a lot of people," says van der Have. "People tend to complain if they can't get to their traditional parking spaces or close to the front doors of their buildings. Today as we're doing the high-temperature water system, and it's the same thing all over again on different parts of the campus, but yes, still disruptive."

Another issue that arose involved the researchers on campus. Researchers are naturally very protective of their work, as they've often invested years of their lives to their topic. Unfortunately, some researchers were so protective, the facilities staff had to spend a lot of time "softening them up" before they were even allowed to enter the research area and change out the lights. In some cases, lights still haven't been replaced, because the researchers still won't let facilities personnel in.

Another challenge came up concerning office personnel, who were used to the kind of light generated by the old fluorescent fixtures. The new lighting (T8 tubes) gave off a different colored light, and people began complaining of bad headaches, claiming they had to go home, sick. "I found out that sometimes it's better if you go in on a weekend to change the light fixtures," jokes van der Have.

Even van der Have has a few items on his "wish list" that weren't achieved. The main one involves the new 900,000-sq-ft housing complex on campus that will accommodate many of the athletes for the 2002 Winter Olympics. He would have liked to have the new chilled water plant service the housing complex. It would have made perfect sense, as the plant is located very close to the complex.

"Unfortunately, the project couldn't afford to pay for it. So now most of the suites are served by individual units, and that is not an efficient way to go. It's not energy efficient, it's not maintenance efficient. Those buildings are very attractive, but then you have a clutter of all those compressors around the outside perimeter, and it's quite noisy out there. So I think there's an opportunity there for them to retrofit," notes van der Have.

But he's also quick to point out that the main goals of the renovation have been achieved, and he's thrilled with the results. In addition to the new chilled water plant and the satellite high-temperature water plant, there are all-new warranties and guarantees on the equipment, so it's almost like having a new set of buildings. That is great news from an operational standpoint, as it will allow the staff to "nibble" into its deferred maintenance backlog quite a bit.

"It's been a fun ride," says van der Have. "It was exciting to be on the edge a little bit." ES

Tools of the Trade

Selected hvac equipment used for the new chiller plant serving University of Utah's health science campus:

  • Air eliminators - Spirotherm
  • Chillers - YORK International Corp.
  • Control systems - Staefa; Johnson Controls, Inc.
  • Cooling tower - Tower Engineering, Inc.
  • Drives - Mitsubishi
  • Fume hoods - Hamilton
  • Furnace (gas-fired) - Trane
  • Motors - Lincoln
  • Pumps - Bell & Gossett
  • Vav boxes - Titus