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BAS Benefits: Automation Sets the Stage for Savings, Efficiency

By Dave Lubach, Associate Editor - February 2014 - Building Automation


The University of New Mexico laid the groundwork for significant energy savings when it upgraded building automation systems (BAS) in several campus buildings in 2004. A decade later the decision is still paying off.

The upgrades involved installing BAS in 60-70 buildings on the Albuquerque campus and about 24 additional buildings at university campuses throughout the state. The university’s energy services department, created six years ago, completed most of the installation work.

“Our mission was to be more of a control-support division,” says Tom Tafoya, energy services manager. “We’ve grown (as a campus), and we’ve been doing all our own control installations, programming, commissioning and startup. And we still support the areas as far as maintenance support.”

The decision to keep work in-house has saved the university thousands of dollars by eliminating contractor’s fees and follow-up maintenance on the systems. Technicians realized many of their service calls involved systems that were installed by contractors.

“Since these are our buildings and it’s our job to do this, we can play and we can test and do different things,” said Rick Burnett, controls engineer. “We used to have other contractors come in, and they gave us our building, and we would have to go in and fine-tune our system. (Now) we send our guys to school to learn the systems, so it’s not like they don’t know what they’re looking for. They go in and manipulate them.”

BAS technology has helped technicians spot mechanical issues that had been difficult to locate. For example, after installing direct digital controls (DDC) in the university’s mechanical engineering building, technicians found that most of the boxes that control heating and cooling were disconnected.

“The way they were controlling them was manual,” Burnett says. “When it was wintertime, they would close off the cooling and open the heat, and vice-versa in the summer. We had no idea that was happening until we went in and took control of those boxes.

“We knew there were issues because there were constant complaints from students and teachers that something wasn’t right. That’s what was causing the problem. HVAC techs and mechanical techs would go out there and adjust everything by hand. We knew there were issues, just not to what extent, until we went in there and installed the DDCs.”

The university continues to experience significant savings from the BAS installations. One recent installation produced energy savings of 33-35 percent. The university strives to maintain energy costs at $1.50 per square foot or less, and “we have no issues achieving that,” Burnett says.

The energy services department has benefited from university leadership that is willing to dedicate money to installing DDCs in part because the department has taken advantage of rebate programs offered by energy companies for installing energy-efficient motors and variable-frequency drives.

“We’ve been able to prove the significant amounts of money we’ve been able to save by putting in the DDCs and continuous tuning of these buildings,” Burnett says. “We can prove the millions we’ve saved in energy costs. And when stuff has proven how effective it is, we can get funding.”
 

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