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Energy conservation project to save nearly $2.4 million annually

Submitted by Alexis Williams on October 8, 2014 – 4:25 pmNo Comment

Trenching has begun behind ETAS and the Nanotechnology building as part of the Campus Energy Conservation Project. This particular section is scheduled to be completed by October 3.



The university plans to save nearly $2.4 million each year in utility costs through the “Campus Energy Conservation Project” carried out by Facilities Management.

The $30 million project broke ground in spring 2014 and is expected to be completed in summer 2015. Once implemented, it will cut campus utility costs by about 50 percent, according to the UALR website.

Ian Hadden is the director of energy management services. Along with a few others, the university hired Hadden to support the project and oversee its completion.

“The primary goal is to reduce total energy expenses,” Hadden said. “The energy conservation project will achieve this in three phases: construct our own energy generation facility, expand the University District heating and cooling [method], and upgrade building control systems.”

Currently, UALR pays about 8 cents per kilowatt/hour for electricity. After the project is completed, the price is estimated to drop to closer to 5 cents per kilowatt/hour which results in a large part of the projected annual savings of nearly $2.4 million.

“But we hope the engineer’s projections on our savings are conservative and we will actually save more,” Hadden said.

Construction crews install the foundation for the generation facility on the old Worth James property. Photo by Alexis Williams

The project is funded through a bond that UALR has agreed to pay back over the course of the next 18 years. Hadden’s hope that the savings estimate are “conservative” is well-founded, since the university gets to keep any extra money it saves.

Hadden mentioned the project will occur in three phases. Phase one involves building an on-campus power plant, which is under construction at the Worth James property on Fair Park Boulevard. Phase two covers the expansion and centralization of heating and cooling systems on campus. Under the current system, many buildings are independently heated and cooled.

“The idea is to get everybody on one system, which is more efficient,” Hadden said.

Phase three concerns upgrading building control system on campus.  Right now, electricity consumption readings for the university come from only three meters. Hadden said that one single meter supplies electricity to about half of the campus, but the new control system would allow meter readings about the energy consumption of each building.

“You can’t change what you can’t measure. So if we don’t have any information about how energy is being consumed, we can’t troubleshoot,” Hadden said.

The current heating system for several buildings is steam-powered, which Hadden said can be a “very efficient heating source, but also a challenge.” The energy conservation project will shift these buildings from steam-powered to hot water-powered systems.

“[Steam systems] are maintenance-intensive and personnel-intensive,” Hadden said.

“It’s also challenging, because steam likes to be turned on and left on. But in our climate, we have some days where we need some heat in the morning and cooling in the afternoon. Steam is not an ideal operation for that type of climate. We get better efficiency if we shift to hot water system,” Hadden said.

Hadden said that staff did well enough to “fix things that are broken” on the equipment, but they found it difficult to begin preventative maintenance on the system with the frequent need for repairs.

“The folks monitoring the boilers were treading water trying to keep system operated,” Hadden said. “But with the new hot-water system, they’ll be able to start swimming, getting to shore and making progress in other areas, thus improving the overall system,” he said.

In support of the energy conservation project, the university will hire two new building optimization specialists to supplement the building automation system operator who currently oversees all of UALR’s heating and cooling needs. The additional personnel will focus on ensuring the efficiency improvements implemented are maintained over the life of the project.

While one centralized energy system is more efficient than multiple independent systems, the risk of centralization is if something malfunctions in the central plant, it can affect all of the buildings connected to it.

The tradeoff of centralization is increased efficiency and performance, Hadden said.

“Because we need fewer parts, we can purchase better-quality equipment that is designed to be more efficient. Then, as the university gets larger, we will be able to continue buying more high-quality equipment,” Hadden said.

The university currently receives power from Entergy Arkansas. As per the agreement between Entergy and UALR, the energy provider can issue an Operational Interruptible Service Rider. An OIS Rider is an interruption request from Entergy that essentially says that they can shut off UALR’s power during peak hours of energy consumption.

 

An electrical contractor and crew install the electrical distribution lines for the generation facility. Photo by Alexis Williams

“During summer, those peak hours are in the middle of the day. During winter, that is from the early morning hours until around lunchtime,” Hadden said.

That window of time is where the savings will come in for UALR, when the university powers itself a little each day.

“Entergy will call us with 24 hours notice and notify us that UALR will need to disconnect the campus from Entergy, and that’s when we’ll need to power ourselves,” Hadden said.

The rider explains the need for the on-campus power plant. The university is not yet on the rider, and it will not be until the generation plant is completed. Hadden explained that the incentive Entergy offers UALR for disconnecting from their power is discounted utility rates.

Although the campus energy conservation project is new for UALR, its concepts are not. Several other organizations in Little Rock currently operate under its system: Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Baptist Health, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Southwest Power Pool.

Buildings set to receive upgrades include Ross, Dickinson, Larson, Administration North, and Nursing, which all use steam.

Current construction sites are the Worth James property and behind the Nanotechnology building and ETAS.

 

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