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Maximizing campus energy efficiency

Across campus, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems have been humming all summer long, rising to meet the challenge of the intense Utah heat. Each HVAC system on campus must continually balance heating, ventilation, and cooling workloads to keep university spaces comfortable, no matter the time of year. To find this balance, the Sustainability & Energy (S&E) team in U Facilities is implementing Monitoring-Based Commissioning (MBCx) to make the U’s HVAC systems more efficient and reduce wasted energy.

Thanks to today’s modern software tools, facility organizations can access a wealth of data when managing buildings. Building Automated Systems (BAS) continually collect HVAC system data, but that doesn’t always translate easily toward a goal of reducing energy consumption and costs. This is where MBCx comes into play, providing facility departments with real-time data analysis of building performance as operational events occur, leading to faster diagnosis of issues and improving short- and long-term energy use.

While MBCx is not currently widely used, the process is becoming more popular as software tool capabilities continue to grow. The S&E team, looking for new and innovative efforts to help the university meet its carbon-neutral goals, began utilizing MBCx in 2020.

MBCx is a multi-step process that begins with the BAS data continuously collected from the HVAC systems, such as air handler fan speeds, chilled and hot water valve positions, exhaust fan status, outside air volumes, and much more. This data is collected and stored in the university’s MBCx data analytics software, SkySpark, which runs algorithms to identify common problems and inefficient operations. Facility operators and S&E can view trends and create data plots, aiding in troubleshooting and understanding system performance.

To launch its first MBCx project, the S&E team contracted with a third-party consultant to assist in navigating this new process. The consultant team analyzed the “flags” or “sparks,” as they are called in SkySpark, looking at historical trends to determine if a spark is a legitimate problem. The data was compiled over several months and reviewed quarterly with university building operators to identify diagnostic issues and determine problem resolution. Finally, potential energy and cost savings opportunities were identified and then prioritized for implementation to ensure HVAC systems were operating at their most efficient levels.

MBCx is one of many ways to help the university reach its carbon-neutral goals by addressing energy inefficiency that might go unnoticed. MBCx can be compared to having an experienced facilities operator constantly monitoring all campus HVAC systems 24/7. For example, numerous air handler units could run inefficiently despite no occupancy complaints, and therefore, an operator may not identify a problematic event. Additionally, an HVAC system could consume more energy for chilled water than necessary, increasing electrical consumption or more power for hot water, increasing natural gas consumption and local emissions. MBCx will capture this data and synthesize results to show potential energy and cost savings.

Today’s university campus is a broad cross-section of new and old buildings with dynamic and complex infrastructures. The MBCx project monitors approximately 360 air handlers in 120 buildings and uses MBCx in one of the central chilled water plants. Two MBCx phases were completed between 2020 and 2021, and after a pause in 2022, S&E is currently leading a third phase. The first two phases were such a success that the university has saved more than $230k per year in utility costs.

MBCx is one of many integral steps toward efficient energy management on campus, saving labor, time, money, and energy consumption. These innovative best practices will help the U address short- and long-term carbon-neutrality goals and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for the entire campus community.