Urban environments today represent both our biggest opportunity and biggest challenge in regard to energy efficiency, consuming 75% of global energy and giving off 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. Urban dwellers are also on the rise: By 2050, it’s projected that cities will be home to 70% of the world’s population.
City leaders—along with their maintenance teams—are tackling congestion, sprawl, power shortages, lack of water, unaffordable public services and many other significant issues. When the lens is focused on challenges relating to energy use, the supply side of the equation gets the bulk of consideration. No matter how much new energy generation we bring to the table, sustainable change isn't possible without curbing our exponentially rising need for electricity.
Driving real change will require us to refocus our attention on the demand side. The good news is that maintenance professionals can play a role in bringing about this change.
Looking to performance contracting
The bad news is that in facilities across the country, there’s often a lack of intelligent energy-management practices in place. Disparate systems for water/wastewater, HVAC, lighting controls and other systems are controlled manually. In larger facilities, buildings may have several management systems that don’t “talk” to each other—missing out on energy efficiency, cost savings and the need to meet rising industry performance expectations and standards.
It’s a fact of life: Maintenance professionals everywhere are tasked with making the most of their time and resources, all while considering environmental impact. With so much of their attention focused on the day-to-day operations of their facilities (and the budgets within which they work), how can the move to intelligent management systems be made?
One proven financial vehicle worth considering is an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC). By partnering with industry professionals, city leaders and building stakeholders gain the perspective and resources to implement intelligent management systems that improve the efficiency of their buildings and simplify the work of their maintenance professionals.
How one Texas city achieved efficiency
Take for example the City of Denison, TX (the "City"), which recently implemented a $7.9 million ESPC project to upgrade and retrofit existing equipment and reduce operational costs in its wastewater treatment plant and other municipal buildings. Projected for completion in the spring, the project is enabling the city to implement long-term energy efficient solutions in its facilities, saving approximately 20 percent of its annual energy costs over the 15-year term of the contract.
The performance contract started with supporting improvements, including the addition of a central energy management system (EMS) in 11 city buildings, including city hall, the community center, the library, a pool, service center, police station, three fire stations and an indoor batting facility. Other upgrades made throughout the city buildings include upgrades to aging HVAC equipment and retrofits from T12 to T8 lighting fixtures. The ESPC is enabling Denison to reduce its energy use by 2.1 million kilowatt hours—which is equivalent to taking 240 cars off the road annually.
After the energy retrofits to its buildings were successfully completed and savings were evident, Denison had added confidence moving forward with its wastewater treatment plant. At first, the City was hesitant to move forward since this facility is its only treatment plant and prolonged downtime was out of the question. Still, the City knew the updates were needed.
Challenged to operate at peak efficiency levels as a result of outdated equipment, the Denison Wastewater Treatment Plant has partnered with Schneider Electric and City design engineers to improve the aeration basin and aerobic digester, install new fine bubble diffusion grids, replace blowers and pumps and perform other upgrades to enable the plant to operate at its full potential, while improving processes and efficiency. When the project is complete, operators will be able to shut down parts of the basin that are not needed, allowing sections to be drained for routine and preventive maintenance (a task that’s not been possible for 15 years), and increasing the overall dependability of the plant.
To operate the plant properly, personnel must be able to regularly drain water and access the grids for maintenance. Since the gates in the diffuser grid were degraded, it was a challenge to isolate them and make necessary repairs. That, in turn, presented code and environmental concerns. As a result, the plant had to run at maximum capacity—with constant adjusting of readings and controlling of valves.
When they're completed, retrofits to the wastewater treatment plant as part of the ESPC will allow personnel to regulate the facility's capacity to the incoming capacity and spend less time manually manipulating equipment. The updates will also help prolong the life of the system by ensuring regular maintenance of the equipment. This will free up time and resources that can be better spent elsewhere, allowing for a streamlined, efficient system—and proper maintenance.
ESPCs and maintenance pros
As someone involved in the operation of one or more facilities, you play a role in driving intelligent energy management and building the case for energy-efficient retrofits. A site energy audit is a good first step. You'll also want to approach your maintenance strategies from a holistic standpoint to help boost productivity, reduce operating costs and increase efficiency. From there, you can understand how energy is being used and the potential for savings. A centralized controls system can have a substantial impact on the productivity of a facility, and an ESPC is an accessible vehicle to implement such a system.
For managers looking to build their case to a board or potential investor, focus on highlighting the energy-savings financing mechanism, as well as the cost-avoidance factor of evaluating and updating systems holistically rather than bit by bit.
Denison's City Administration helped build the case for the ESPC, influenced by insights gathered from maintenance professionals and others. Changes were clearly needed. And the ESPC—which comes with a guaranteed ROI—has provided the right vehicle for helping the City move forward on necessary updates that are making its facilities run more effectively.
When considering an ESPC, attention should be given to investing in personnel training as well. It’s not just about getting the right technology in place, but also ensuring that the staff is comfortable managing and maintaining the systems.
Urban efficiency can deliver up to 30% energy savings, reduction of water losses by up to 15% and reduction of travel time and traffic delays by up to 20%, not to mention longer-term environmental, social and economic sustainability. The opportunities to address our energy-demand challenges are real. Through ESPCs and energy-efficient practices, we can help our cities ensure competitiveness and manage growth for today and many years to come. MT
Tammy Fulop is Vice President, Energy Solutions, for Schneider Electric. Since 2000, she has applied her leadership talents to driving the success of performance contracting projects for hundreds of clients in the U.S.