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Taking Efficiency To School

Oct. 1, 2011
A high school HVAC system wasn’t making the grade. CCG Energy Solutions stepped in and dramatically improved the efficiency of the system, as well as the comfort of the students and teachers.

American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify."

Those who teach Thoreau's words in the Twinsburg, OH school district can do so much more comfortably now, and at a tremendous savings to the district, thanks to CCG Energy Solutions, Richfield, OH. When it comes to energy upgrades, the company takes Thoreau’s philosophy of simplifying to heart, but (fortunately for its customers) does not see details as mere frittering.

Our tale begins in 2009, when the administration at the Twinsburg High School and Fitness Center Complex realized it was faced with a serious issue: the school and its attached community fitness center were not operating nearly as efficiently as they should have been, and the 367,295-sq.ft. building that housed them both was only 10 years old.

The need for an upgrade of the controls system and a growing awareness of green technology brought the district's attention to the school. They knew they had to improve comfort, and were also looking for ways to reduce utility spending on their building.

CCG Energy Solutions surveyed the situation and determined that the building was operating at 152,700 Btus/sq.ft./year. That gave it a rating of 1 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Portfolio Manager, an interactive online energy management tool. The Portfolio Manager rates buildings on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the best.

"Based on our experience, we knew the building could be much more energy efficient — even Energy Star certified — with an energy conservation project," says Brian Wagner, president of CCG Energy Solutions, Inc. "We knew we could provide immediate results in energy reduction and cost, while making the environment more comfortable for the building’s inhabitants."

When Wagner talks like that, school districts are wise to listen. His company and its sister, CCG Automation, focus on energy projects in hospitals, colleges, manufacturing plants, and office buildings. But its real "sweet spot" is in the K-12 market, and the company had already performed energy upgrades at dozens of other school districts in the southern suburbs of Cleveland prior to tackling Twinsburg.

Mike Lenzo, assistant superintendent of the Twinsburg School District, met Wagner at a seminar sponsored by CCG to educate building owners on the true costs of operating a space.

"Like many entities, we were always obligated to focus on the least expensive ways to meet the specs for a project," Lenzo says. "Wagner, an architect, and the business manager of another school district had a discussion about the difference between designing based on cost per square foot, and designing based on the overall cost of actually owning and operating that space. It changed my perspective."

Lenzo and the Twinsburg schools asked CCG to proceed with an analysis of the district's buildings, in which it was discovered that the high school — although among the newer buildings — was where the biggest energy and comfort problems existed.

CCG presented options to the district that addressed several energy conservation measures in the high school and fitness center, including:

  • Designing a boiler system according to CCG’s "right size" philosophy. "We were able to take three 8-million Btu boilers and replace them with three high-efficiency 3-million Btu boilers, a change that translated into a considerable reduction in energy use," Wagner says. "Not only are the new boilers more efficient, having properly-sized boilers reduces equipment cycling."
  • Changing the heating system from a primary/secondary pumping system to a variable-primary pumping system. This process freed up floor space, enabled simpler control, and reduced motor horsepower requirements.
  • Upgrading the building automation system by replacing the existing control system with an Automated Logic WebCTRL System. CCG's time-tested control strategies enabled the district to improve control of the system and reduce energy consumption. CCG also added gas meters to further improve the ability to monitor the system.
  • Undertaking a significant lighting upgrade both inside and outside the building

At the time of the project, annual savings for the Twinsburg High School and Fitness Center Complex were projected to be:

  • 1,625,299 kWh of electricity ($133,106)
  • 7,927 mcf of natural gas ($93,538)

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Along with the energy and cost savings for the building, the project includes a positive environmental impact. The projected energy reductions will prevent a significant amount of pollutants from being emitted into the atmosphere each year, including an estimated:

  • 2,406 lbs. of carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • 26,008 lbs. of sulfur dioxide
  • 14,468 lbs. of nitrogen oxide

These upgrades came at no extra cost to taxpayers, as the project will eventually pay for itself in saved utility costs.

The project presented a unique challenge for CCG in that the upgrades to the building had to be completed while keeping the fitness center complex supplied with hot water every day, no matter what needed to be done to the boilers. To add to the challenge, school was in session throughout most of the project.

Through the first six months following implementation of the project, the projected electric savings were 770.655 kWh. The actual savings were 1,169,883 kWh, exceeding the projection by 399,228 kWh. This equates to a 41% reduction in adjusted baseline electric consumption.

The six-month projected gas savings were 4,460 mcf. The actual savings were 6,123 mcf, exceeding the initial projection by 1,663 mcf. This equates to a 41% reduction in adjusted baseline gas consumption.

Based on these results, the project is on track to save even more annually than initially projected.

Wagner points out that when the building "achieved" its baseline rating of 1 on the Energy Star Portfolio Manager program, it was consuming 152,000 Btus/sq.ft./year Six months after completion of the project, it is consuming 67,500 Btus/sq.ft./ year, and is rated as a 78 on the Portfolio Manager. That number will only increase over the next six months as the program records a full year of data.

"The immediate results have been so impressive that the building is now a strong contender in the Energy Star National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings, in which buildings are judged to see which ones show the largest percentage reduction in their energy use," Wagner says.

Not only were the upgrades a benefit to the district's budget, they allowed for a healthier learning environment for the students.

CCG prides itself on its track record of controlling temperatures to within 1/10 of 1 degree, so students and teachers at Twinsburg High School benefit with a more comfortable building. Also, through the use of CO2 and occupancy sensors the building automation system provides improved control over the use of outdoor air and improves indoor air quality, which directly affects student performance and reduces absenteeism.

Upon completion of a project, CCG thoroughly commissions its systems. It checks out each point within the system to ensure the equipment is running accurately and optimally. This checkout and monitoring continues for a one-year period upon completion of the project. CCG also hires a certified balancing company to perform water and air balancing of the systems.

CCG Energy Solutions was able to help Twinsburg High School and Fitness Center Complex improve its energy conservation considerably. The better-than-expected results six months after the project indicate a promising future in terms of energy conservation.

Wagner is justifiably proud of this Contracting Business Design/Build Award-winning project.

"This is an example of the benefits of the Design/Build process," he says. "A significant portion of our business is updating newer buildings that were built using the traditional low-bid process.

"In this case, we took a very complicated mechanical system and repiped and reconfigured it to make it much simpler to operate and maintain," he adds. "That, plus the ability to closely monitor building performance with the new automation system, will reduce the school’s operating costs as the years go by. Add in the improvement in comfort and it has been a successful project all the way around."

All of that is appreciated by Lenzo, but, as is so often the case, it's the "human side" of a project that makes the biggest impression, and this project was no exception.

"CCG was able to walk us through every step of the process, from beginning to end," Lenzo says. "And although they have a very high level of technical knowledge, I was very impressed by their ability to explain everything at a level that everyone — even a school assistant superintendent — could understand."

That concludes today’s lesson.