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Like many institutional and commercial facilities, Mississippi State University faced growing utility costs in the mid-2000s that forced maintenance and engineering managers to find new ways to do more with less.
In 2006, the university in Starkville set a goal to reduce its energy consumption by 30 percent per square foot by 2016. So far, so good. The university has saved more than $25 million in electricity and natural gas and is well on its way to reaching its goal. The success has resulted from a series of retrofit projects — most notably, converting its central steam plant to high-efficiency hot-water condensing units. The projects also have added variable air volume (VAV) systems to its buildings and introduced building automation systems to campus as time and budgets allow.
"It's been pretty well documented that doing these types of things over time definitely impacts your bottom line," says J.D. Hardy, the university's associate director of utilities and an energy and mechanical engineer in facilities management in 2008, when the project started. "The cost avoidance is energy we would have otherwise spent if we had not taken the initiative to implement these changes and operate more effectively."
The first and most significant step the university took to reduce its HVAC-related energy costs involved the multi-million dollar conversion of the central steam plant to high-efficiency, hot-water condensing units. The steam plant served for years as the primary heat provider to almost 40 campus facilities with about 3.5 million square feet of space.
"Our steam plant was built in the mid-1920s and has a long history of providing heating and steam needs for the campus," Hardy says. "(The plant's) reached out with steam distribution through tunnels across campus, and with that type of distribution, there have been a lot of advances made. Over time, a system like that can become quite inefficient, even with the best maintenance practices."
The engineering department played a significant role in the design and planning of the conversion. The engineering manager at the time helped specify the type and size of equipment required to replace the older steam boilers. In-house technicians performed most of the work, but some elements of the project required outsourcing.