Energy-savings fight heats up for summer

For the last eight summers, Facilities Management staff has confronted rising energy bills and mounting demand pressures by working with the university community to reduce electricity consumption during June, July and August. That challenge dawns again this year.

“Facilities Management continues to invest in conservation and electricity demand management as a strategy throughout the year and particularly in the summer months,” said Steve MacKay, Associate Vice-President (Facilities Management). “Although our work in better systems and controls is important, we owe much of our success to the collaboration with Western’s leadership and the support of the campus community.”

Thus far, the energy-savings effort has led to savings of roughly $2 million-$2.5 million last year and nearly $10 million total. However, over those years, the rules of the game have changed and the strategy to avoid these fees has had to change with it.

Facilities Management will update and share the summer conservation forecast calendar on a weekly basis on the Demand Management website.

In 2012, Western was one of the only universities to take action to reduce energy during the province’s peak energy days. The strategy included broad reductions to systems on campus. The efforts were initially referred to as Global Adjustment (GA) because they were in direct response to the added GA fees that appear on the university’s hydro bill. They have since been identified as part of the overall Demand Management Strategy that includes all of Western’s energy conservation efforts.

In the preceding years, more organizations followed Western’s lead and began shedding electrical load on select days. As a result, energy peaks became more unpredictable as electricity draw was being impacted by Ontario businesses consciously changing energy habits, MacKay said.

To stay ahead of competitors, Western invested in new chilled water valves, allowing for isolated reductions to specific buildings and rooms on campus. The new, remotely controlled valves can be operated independently and in increments as opposed to either just open or shut.

“Most occupants won’t notice much change in indoor air temperatures during mitigation events,” MacKay continued.

Last year, Facilities Management built on those efforts and installed new technology that further automates chiller controls. The chillers will provide similar cooling while using as much as 40 per cent less power.

“With the switch there are evident cost savings, but more importantly, the division can provide more comfort to customers throughout the warmer months and on peak energy days,” MacKay said. “With the push of a button, the south chiller plant will be in ‘demand management’ mode and chillers will adjust to use less energy.”

This year, MacKay said efforts will “fine tune” the automated sequencing that was installed last year. During the anticipated peak hours, the power plant will get an extra energy savings from its chillers by slightly changing the equipment’s parameters. For example, the plant operator can temporarily set a higher supply temperature so the chiller will not work as hard. This measure can only be used for short period of time because it puts strain on the recovery system and can’t be implement for more than a few hours. These adjustments will save another 200 kilowatts when needed most.

With Western emerging as an international leader in demand management, MacKay looks to researchers, faculty, staff and students to do their part in energy conservation.

“We don’t do this alone – in fact, we can’t do this alone,” he said. “Not only do we have buy-in from our peers and colleagues for the work we do, we appreciate their efforts in changing their own energy habits as well.”