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The Quest for Carbon Neutrality at Weber State University

September 25, 2019

Focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency, the Modern Energy Management podcast invites facility innovators to discuss energy best practices that go beyond the meter. Justin Owen is the Energy Manager of the Facilities Management Administration at Weber State University in Utah. He's discussed some great ideas about managing energy demand at his facilities, and it's our pleasure to share his experience and insights with you here.

Justin's diverse education in geography, environmental science, and public relations, as well as his practical experience working with the Weber sustainability office, has given him the understanding and knowledge to make modifications which have significantly increased overall efficiency. Weber State's goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 has challenged him to discover ways to reduce fossil fuel dependence on a campus of about 3 million sq ft serving over 26,000 students and 1,500 staff.

Instead of simply buying carbon emissions offsets, he looked into methods of eliminating the combustion of fossil fuels. Implementing the infrastructure needed to accomplish the goal of carbon neutrality came down to four key points: maximizing efficiency, electrifying the entire campus, sourcing renewable energy, and reinvesting the savings.

Maximizing Efficiency

A creative and innovative tactic that Justin approached this challenge with is the concept of shutting down the central steam plant during summer. The facility management team shuts down the plant once temps are staying above 50°. This means they no longer need to reheat the variable air volume (VAV) boxes in the A/C systems.

Justin states that "Instead of using the reheat for thousands of VAV boxes, we increase return air to keep the energy inside the building."

By integrating hybrid heat pump water heaters and auxiliary boilers where needed, and without the plant operating, Weber saves $2,000 per day . By increasing the redundant energy usage, campus demand dropped by nearly half - from 8.1MW to 4.5MW.

Other methods of maximizing energy efficiency on campus include using variable frequency drives (VFD) and replacing large fans with fan walls. Fan walls use less energy to move the same cubic feet per minute (CFM) and also increase reliability in the event of a motor failure. Separating the heating and cooling systems with an energy recovery ventilator and scaling the exhaust CFM to equal the supply CFM eliminates the need for air returns, which works the fans less - increasing efficiency.

Electrifying the Entire Campus

Justin explained that they have already made notable progress in achieving carbon neutrality when stating,

"We do have a steam distribution system that we are quickly getting off of right now. About 30% of our campus has been electrified and is no longer connected to steam. We use ground source, water-cooled VRF, and heat pumps instead."

There is tremendous untapped potential in ground source, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

Renewable Energy Sourcing

Weber's 110,000 sq ft social science building was due for renovation, but with 600 feet of pressure head between the top and bottom of the campus, an intriguing challenge presented itself regarding a chilled water system. His solution was to install a ground source field with 110 wells, 400 feet deep, along with a heat exchanger to manage the pressure. This resulted in Weber's first academic building receiving 100% of its heating from the earth without the need for natural gas.

Another renewable project currently being developed for the social science building is a 500kW solar covered parking array which will supply all of the energy for the structure. Once the solar array is complete, the building will become carbon neutral.

Reinvesting the Savings

Weber State established an internal $5 million revolving loan fund to develop its energy management program. Facility management was able to invest in energy projects, pay off debt with the energy savings, and repay the funds with a higher interest payment than the university would have earned otherwise. $300,000 of savings were realized during year one, and they are now seeing savings of $2 million a year.

Conclusion...but it's really just the beginning

The difference between developing carbon neutral buildings or overspending thousands of dollars is just one creative idea away. Modifying existing systems to be less wasteful or integrating newer technology should be viewed as an investment in a facility's future as well as an effort to preserve Earth's natural resources. Examine what Weber State University has done to save on utilities while they work towards their goal of getting off of fossil fuels.

Stay tuned in to the Modern Energy Management podcast for more discussions about current issues in energy management from leading industry professionals.

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Lucid would like to thank our friends at GoFable for writing this article for us.