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Continuous energy-efficiency projects across the University of Windsor campus reduce electricity usage

Project

Continuous energy-efficiency projects across the University of Windsor campus reduce electricity usage.

Background

The University of Windsor provides graduate and undergraduate instruction to about 16,000 full-time and part-time students. The 40-building campus has about 2.8 million square feet of space and consumes about 53 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually.

The challenge for the university is to balance the spending of limited dollars for operating expenses versus investing in new energy efficiency to reduce costs over a longer time, says Dennis Hastings, executive director, facilities services. “We have to be fairly creative in designing new projects.”

The efforts have paid off because, in the past six years, overall energy use has not increased significantly, even though four new buildings and additional energy demand have been added, Mr. Hastings says. Students and faculty are continually pushing the facilities department to do more to cut energy use and improve the environment.

“It’s often a struggle between what we can afford to do and what we would like to do,” says project engineer Danny Castellan.

“Because we work in an environment with a lot of enthusiastic and thoughtful people, we get a lot people pushing our envelope in a positive way,” Mr. Hastings adds.

Senior manager Gary McMann traces the university’s emphasis on reducing energy costs to 1993 when the institution installed a co-generation turbine that uses waste heat and cuts energy costs. The co-generation facility produces about 46 percent of the university’s electrical needs.

“This was a significant step to more efficient use of energy,” he says.

Implementation

Every year the facilities group selects projects based on available funding and the particular needs of a building or for equipment, Mr. Hastings says. “Upgrading the equipment to reduce energy costs is done continually on an annual basis.”

In recent years upgrades have included retubing boilers, replacing boilers and hundreds of lighting fixtures as well as replacing the university’s chillers.

There are normally three major objectives in undertaking lighting retrofits: energy reduction, lower operating costs and overall improvement in the quality of light, says Phill Diett, electrical maintenance supervisor.

The University’s School of Visual Arts, a single-storey 38,000-square-foot building, was retrofitted with T8 lamps, electronic ballasts and occupancy sensors in 2006. Since then electricity usage has dropped an average of 140,000 Kwh per year. “We exceeded our annual projected reduced target (124,000 Kwh) by over 10 percent,” Mr. Diett says.

“Projects at the university are driven by a lot of things: energy savings, environmental improvements, regulatory requirements, bottom line. Everything is integrated,” Mr. Hastings says.
He points to the $400,000 that was recently spent on lighting improvements across the campus. The majority of the funding was provided by the Ontario provincial government as deferred maintenance grants and used for several lighting projects.

In the Leddy Library 300 occupancy sensors were installed, while in the underground connecting tunnels more than 390 100-watt incandescent lights were replaced by 200 32-watt fluorescent bulbs for an annual reduction of 211,000 kWh of electricity. In the Odette Business School, an entire classroom was retrofitted with T8 linear fluorescent lighting and occupancy sensors that are projected to reduce energy input by 40,000 kilowatts per year.

“We no longer hear people saying it’s not my job to turn off the lights. The system does it for you,” Mr. Diett says.

One aspect of the massive lighting upgrade is to replace 60 percent of the traditional electrically powered exit signs (about 500 signs) with self-powered photo-luminescent signs. The signs use strontium oxide aluminates, which are non-toxic, non-radioactive and meet the school’s environmental objectives. “They take energy from other light sources and then release it as visible light after darkness falls. It requires zero energy input from other sources,” Mr. Diett says.

The university partnered with PNA Group of Oakville to develop the specifications so they would meet standards of the Ontario Building Code. Now other Canadian universities are interested in the same technology.

Mr. Diett says three of the traffic signals on the campus are powered by solar panels to further support the university’s environmental goals.

The university’s most ambitious project is the conversion of the lighting system at the 69,000-square-foot St. Denis Field House, which holds five basketball courts and an indoor 200-metre track. It will involve installing T5 fluorescent fixtures and motion sensors.

“Our calculations are based on various scenarios and we picked the middle ground. It is not an exact science. Because it (St. Denis) is a public space, it is difficult to calculate the occupancy at any given time. Savings are estimated at between 233,000 and 272,000 kilowatt-hours a year. We’re confident we will reach our target,” he says.

The university believes that installing occupancy sensors throughout the campus is one of the major ways to control electricity use, Mr. Diett says. In the Leddy Library, where occupancy sensors have been installed in the book stacks, the cost savings are estimated to be between 87,000 and 100,000 kWh.

The sensors ensure that 50 percent of the stacks are lit only when they are used. “Our studies show that the stacks need to be lit as little as eight minutes out of every hour,” Mr. Diett says.

Financing

Cost savings from energy conservation have been a continuing focus for all the university’s renovation and new construction projects, Mr. Hastings says. “All projects include energy-efficient technologies such as occupancy sensors and high-efficiency lighting. We’re maximizing our investment dollars through energy cost reduction.”

For every new project and when renovating spaces, high-efficiency lighting is installed, Mr. Castellan says. “That’s automatic.”

The most recent lighting upgrade and replacement program (service tunnels, business school classroom, exit signs, field house and gym) involves a total investment of more than $370,000 with individual paybacks ranging from 2.2 to 7.1 years.

Financial incentives provided by the Ontario Power Authority through the Electricity Retrofit Incentive Program (ERIP) have had a positive impact on reducing the payback periods, Mr. Diett says. Enwin Utilities, the local distribution company administering ERIP, provided the university about $15,000 towards the lighting projects.

The University of Windsor continues to be a leader in Energy Conservation, with continuous improvements being incorporated in all facility upgrades, utilizing all incentive programs we have to offer, says Lawrence Musyj, Enwins Director of Conservation and Energy Management.

“Our long-standing working relationship with Enwin Utilities has assisted not only in the specific requirements of the Electricity Retrofit Incentive Program but on an ongoing basis by alerting us to new programs that can help us reduce our electricity use,” Mr. McMann says.

Lessons Learned

Although each new project is specific in terms of its application and financing, there are general principles every project follows from the beginning to completion.

The first is working around the schedule of the students and faculty. “We do our work when it is convenient for them,” Mr. Hastings says, adding it took 24 months to complete the lighting retrofit of the law school because of the need to balance the classes and other demands. “It took a lot of later afternoon and midnight work to fit everyone’s schedule.”

“Our biggest challenge is working around people’s schedules. The university operates 24-7. It takes determination and persistence in communication with the people affected. You have to bring the stakeholders into the process. We’re altering people’s space,” Mr. Diett says.

“You have to be very cognizant of this, especially lighting. We poll the students informally to find out their response to what we will be doing. We want then to understand why we are doing this and buy into it,” Mr. Diett says. “It’s their future and we’re trying to maintain it by conserving energy.”

The University of Windsor is part of the larger network of Ontario universities, and it benefits from extensive knowledge sharing and information about energy conservation.

“They (university facility departments) have been at the forefront of making energy-conservation initiatives available to their university colleagues,” Mr. Hastings says. “This is a major benefit to the University of Windsor as well as other Ontario universities.”

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