Canadian Consulting Engineer

Campus Overhaul

MCW is in charge of Canada's largest energy and water retrofit at the University of British Columbia, where hundreds of buildings are affected.

March 1, 2004   By David Kosub

MCW is in charge of Canada’s largest energy and water retrofit at the University of British Columbia, where hundreds of buildings are affected.

y any measure the challenges on this project are big: introduce computerized building management systems to control heating and ventilation in 165 buildings, covering close to 372,000 square metres (4,000,000 s.f.), replace up to 3,650 metres (12,000 ft.) of condensate pipe over an area the size of a small city, and upgrade a central steam plant feeding 130 core buildings. To cap it off, the energy management firm will provide a guarantee of performance that the energy savings will pay off the project debt over time.

That’s precisely the gauntlet that MCW Custom Energy Solutions of Vancouver has picked up in managing the ECOTrek program at the University of British Columbia.

At $35.2 million, ECOTrek is the largest energy and water efficiency program ever undertaken in Canada. It is three times the value of a similar project completed by MCW at the University of Manitoba in 1999. Both projects were done under an energy performance contract (EPC) where all services, i.e. engineering, management, construction and long-term monitoring, are carried out by a single provider. MCW Custom Energy Solutions is 50% owned by MCW Consultants, a firm that was born 40 years ago in Winnipeg.

The retrofit at UBC is slated for completion in spring 2006 and is approximately 50 per cent complete. Monitoring and verification, however, will continue for many years, possibly until the project pay-out which is 20 years from now.

The university’s external relations officer, Barney Ellis-Perry, says nearly every person among the 43,000 faculty, staff and students on campus will be affected by the retrofit: “We look at energy, we look at water, gas, sewage, all these utility inputs and outputs of the university,” he says.

ECOTrek is part of a larger sustainability program at UBC, which was the first Canadian university to adopt a sustainable development policy. The university takes a comprehensive approach: “We also look at personal sustainability, paper use, food sources. It’s one complete, huge web of sustainability,” says Ellis-Perry.

The first strands of that web began seven years ago, revolving around two new buildings: the C.K. Choi Building and the Liu Centre for the Study of Global issues. Built with reused and waste materials such as lumber and fly ash concrete, both buildings used energy saving technologies such as T8 fluorescent lighting and double-glazed, argon gas-filled windows.

More importantly, says the university’s energy manager Jorge Marques, P. Eng., the narrow structures allow both buildings to be cooled by natural cross flow ventilation in summer. In winter, fresh air entering through trickle vents below the windows is tempered by hot water radiators.

“What we’re trying to do is create a stack effect within the building by letting the hot air rise, i.e. creating an air flow through the windows up and through the building,” Marques explains.

The Choi Building and Liu Centre set the tone for a more comprehensive sustainability policy to see energy use cut by 20 per cent by 2004. The reduction started through a major lighting retrofit of 50 campus buildings, known as the ELECTrek project. Four years later, UBC president Martha Piper was ecstatic. The project had cut electricity consumption by 11 per cent and eliminated $600,000 from the university’s annual electricity bill. Equally pleased was BC Hydro, which helped fund the $6.5 million program.

While they had made a good start at reducing electrical consumption from lighting, the university still needed to look at other areas of the campus mechanical and electrical infrastructure. Thereby “ECOTrek” was born.

The university sought energy management firms through a competitive process and in May 2001 MCW was selected. Gerry Nunn, program manager at MCW, had worked with UBC on previous lighting pilot projects. He knew they would have to incorporate a large and very diverse group of users into their plans and, more importantly, tailor eventual energy output to actual client usage.

“Part of our effort is to audit all 6.8 million square feet and determine the actual usage of these buildings,” Nunn says. “Through the implementation of the building management system, we can now shed any unnecessary run times. This approach not only saves electricity that drives the fans, but also the steam used to heat the air and the electricity or steam used to cool that same air.”

MCW chief executive officer David Bellamy, P.Eng. says the company will consider anything and everything, from catching swimming pool evaporation to changing light bulbs, introducing DDC controls and chiller conversions, in order to save natural gas, water and electricity costs. “But while we’re trying to save those three utilities, we’re also trying to improve the infrastructure that’s been suffering because of the lack of maintenance dollars,” Bellamy says. “So it’s not a single minded pursuit of energy. It’s a pursuit of energy savings and improvement of space conditions, environmental issues and infrastructure.”

A case in point, says Bellamy, is the underground piping system. Nearly half the 288 buildings on campus are fed by a steam distribution system connected to a large central steam plant. Much of that piping has fallen into disrepair over the years for lack of money. You can’t make changes to the central steam plant, says Bellamy, without first looking at the distribution system.

“It’s like doing a heart transplant; there’s no point in putting in a new heart, if the veins that service it are in need of the same repair.”

Once complete, MCW estimates its replacement of 3,650 metres 30% of condensate pipe should increase the system’s rate of return (condensate) from 30% to 80%, significantly reducing the energy output and costs associated with re-heating water. But the litmus test will be the system’s ability to hold up in the long term. MCW is recommending factory pre-insulated piping with a waterproof barrier to prevent the pipe from rotting outside-in. Nothing new there. But the challenge, says Bellamy, is demonstrating to the university that pre-insulated piping is the way to go.

“They’ve had some bad experience with older types of pre-insulated piping, but there’s a whole range. It depends on the insulation, how it’s applied, whether it has a waterproof barrier on the outside; there are a thousand different ideas.”

Part of UBC’s steam distribution problems stem from past decisions, says Bellamy — like the decision about which pipes it should replace. Instead of replacing pipe according to its actual rate of deterioration, the university replaced it based on age. Under some circumstances that might be the right thing to do, says Bellamy, but you don’t know for sure that you’ve upgraded the piping that truly needs it. MCW’s approach is different.

“We’ve actually gone through and tested the legs in the condensate system and found where the leaks are and made that section of the system the first priority. Once it’s replaced, we’ll get the pumps running again and bring the condensate back. This method provides a better return on your investment.”

Unlike the steam plant at the University of Manitoba where MCW reclaimed heat out of the stack for re-use elsewhere in the plant, the ECOtrek program at UBC will change the burners within the central steam plant’s boilers to reduce NOx levels and increase O2 levels from the stack emissions, while increasing the boiler efficiency. Ordinarily, says Bellamy, you can’t do all three things at once, “unless of course you properly design a custom burner and burner management system.”

“We’re taking old low-efficiency boilers and making them mid-efficiency by implementing a customized engineered wind box and burner design, and by installing variable speed drives to control the amount of combustion air. You pick up two or three percentage points of efficiency this way. So instead of being at 78% efficiency, the boilers will be at 81% or 82%.”

MCW’s work has meant working the develop
ment schedule around student exams and university research projects. It has also involved unprecedented give and take between what the consultant recommends and the client wants. And that can be tough sometimes.

MCW had to explain, for example, that the university’s preference for stainless steel impellers over industry standard bronze impellers for their condensate return pumps to combat rust, missed the real point, which was to fix and prevent the leaks.

They also saw domestic water being wasted: “We had seen many domestic water quench systems that cool the hot condensate before going to drain. This happens when the condensate pumps are out of service and the condensate fluid needs to be bypassed to drain. This solution is O.K. for the short term, but we were seeing pumps out of service for extended periods, which meant the campus was wasting a lot of water. We recommended fixing the pumps, piping, etc. and using stand-by pumps in order not to use domestic water for quenching.”

“None of this works unless the program is undertaken as a partnership between ourselves and the university,” says Bellamy. “With a large and diverse user group on the campus, we’ve certainly had our challenges. However we’ve been fortunate as our client believes in the true value that partnering can bring.”

Client: University of British Columbia

Energy management/energy performance contract: MCW Custom Energy Solutions (David Bellamy, P.Eng., Gerry Nunn)

Neville SCARFE Educational Block

Running a steam plant at higher than optimum loads to provide cooling in summer, made the replacement of an old steam absorption chiller with a higher efficiency electric chiller a better bet for UBC’s Neville SCARFE Educational Block.

Asked by UBC to move its conversion to the electric chiller forward in its schedule, MCW pre-ordered a 300 ton centrifugal water-cooled chiller. The specification was based upon a comprehensive assessment of the present cooling loads of the building, first-time costs, energy costs and operating costs. During the manufacture and delivery of the chiller, MCW prepared the installation drawings and tendered the work (see installation photos above). “Our goal is always to optimize the chilled water plant and not just to replace a chiller” says Gerry Nunn. “Even with a late start, we completed this conversion in time for the cooling season.”

The Neville SCARFE block also provided a test case for proposed changes in domestic water usage. Many urinals on campus used water 24 hours a day. MCW implemented a unique controller that uses occupancy sensors to regulate the use of water. Close to 500 of these controllers will be installed throughout the campus. Overall, MCW will be retrofitting almost 5,000 fixtures to low consumption type. Through this and other measures, MCW proposes to reduce water consumption on campus by 30% to 40%.

Central Steam Plant

The university’s central steam plant provides steam to approximately 130 buildings. Four large boilers provide up to 425,000 lbs. per hour of steam production. With the goal to reduce NOx emissions and to increase boiler efficiency, MCW implemented a comprehensive program that included burner and wind box retrofits within three boilers, installation of variable speed drive technology, the addition of economizers that capture waste heat from the stacks, and a new computerized burner management system that allows operators at the central plant better control of equipment. This program will help to permanently reduce UBC’s NOx emissions.


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