With budgets being tightened and funds being slashed, energy efficiency has been thrust to the forefront and one entity of The Texas A&M University System is doing its part to help members and other government agencies save money and increase energy efficiency in their buildings.
Through a program known as the Continuous Commissioning® process, the Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL), a center within the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), has worked to produce more than $100 million in savings in more than 300 buildings throughout Texas, the United States and the World.
The Continuous Commissioning® process uses an ongoing effort to resolve operating problems, improve comfort and optimize energy use for existing commercial and institutional buildings and central plant facilities. The process has been trademarked by TEES and is being commercialized through the A&M System Office of Technology Commercialization.
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“When I was growing up, we tuned our cars up pretty often and that could make a significant difference in gas mileage,” said Dr. David E. Claridge, director of ESL and a mechanical engineering professor at Texas A&M University. “The Continuous Commissioning® process is a structured process for providing that kind of tune-up to building operations. It is a systematic way of looking at buildings and locating problems, and then working with the building operators to correct them.”
Continuous Commissioning® originated in 1995 when the idea was first brought to Texas A&M University president Ray M. Bowen, who told his financial vice president to find the money to make Continuous Commissioning® happen on the Texas A&M campus. That money was taken from the campus’ utilities budget, which placed pressure on then-ESL director Dr. Dan Turner, Claridge and their colleagues to produce results somewhat quickly.
“Knowing that the utility budget was a biennial budget, we knew we had to save enough in two years to pay for the work we were doing,” Claridge said.
A key component of Continuous Commissioning® is the ability to measure the amount of energy going into a building to determine how much the process is accomplishing. This required an initial output of nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for the installation of heating and cooling meters.
After installing meters in the first 20 buildings, data was analyzed and a decision was made to focus on the Kleberg building, which, at the time, was just under 20 years old and using extremely large amounts of heating and cooling.
The ESL group found that in an effort to fix humidity problems in the building, the air coming into it was being heated to 110 degrees, then immediately being cooled to 55 degrees. The coils that were being used to heat the air were designed to only come on if the outside temperature was near freezing. This would keep the outside air warm enough to prevent freezing in any part of the ventilation system. But in the effort to combat the humidity in Kleberg, the coils were continuously left on.
“It was one of those things where you have a very vexing problem and you are trying to figure out how to fix it,” Claridge explained. “Somewhere along the way someone thought of this and those problems seemed to go away.”
The coils that were left on were turned off, and that simple act led to savings of nearly $200,000 per year according to Claridge. Upon going through the rest of the building, finding other problems and making modifications, additional savings of about $200,000 per year were realized. The total savings in just the Kleberg building were almost enough to recoup the initial startup cost of the meters for the program.
“The savings in that building were significantly more than the total operating cost of many similar buildings on campus,” Claridge said “We immediately saved essentially enough to pay for the metering on the whole campus in two years in just that one building.”
The program has expanded on the Texas A&M campus and continues today in more than 80 buildings on the flagship campus in conjunction with A&M’s Utilities & Energy Management department. Several other campuses in the A&M System have also implemented the program including Texas A&M International University in Laredo, where Claridge says they have done the most work, cutting campus consumption by between 15 and 20 percent.
It has also spread throughout the state to such entities as the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio — where it produced 10 percent savings in a brand new building — the Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport and IBM. Additionally, it is being used in more than 30 military hospitals worldwide and a dozen Veterans Administration hospitals through licensees. A new project was recently launched with the Texas Facilities Commission in Austin, which is already using the Continuous Commissioning® process in Austin Independent School District buildings in conjunction with Austin Energy’s Building Tune-up Program.
“The Continuous Commissioning® process ended up being significantly more successful than our initial estimates,” Claridge said. “You can say we hoped it would be successful but we certainly had no idea how much it would save.”