How to maximise energy efficiency of existing facilities

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Energy efficiency is a necessity in all sectors of society in the current climate of rising electricity and fuel prices, increasingly stringent government regulation, and the carbon tax.

But one of the key challenges for engineers and professionals in the industrial and built environment sectors is to maximise energy efficiency of existing facilities, since most of us do not have the luxury of designing for new-build or green-field sites.

Establishing the performance of your existing building or manufacturing plant is the first step in developing a holistic and cost-effective program of upgrades to equipment and facilities. Yet there is still a considerable way to go for many organizations in adopting best practice approaches to benchmarking their energy performance.

"Understand your process" must be the starting point for anyone looking to reduce their energy consumption through good energy management and retrofitting of high efficiency equipment.

This is equally important for the manufacturer looking to minimise electricity and fuel consumption through optimisation of their plant as it is for the commercial building owner who needs to replace an ageing air conditioning system while minimising disturbance to the tenants in the building.

Development of a structured approach and acquisition of key background information is critical to optimal energy efficiency investment decisions. In the case of existing commercial buildings, determining the optimal building upgrade is no longer a case of examining historical fuel bills and taking a walk through the building and plant rooms.

An extensive audit should start with determination of the requirements of the occupants and constraints on the building operation. Then installation of sub-metering (if required) and in-depth examination and interpretation of detailed real-time consumption data may reveal unexpected energy "treasures" where equipment, such as the HVAC system, may be operating far from optimally.

Then a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of all the major retrofitting options will need to be carried out, possibly including hour-by-hour simulation of the building performance of the key options.

Adoption of a coherent approach to energy efficiency can unlock new opportunities and financial benefits.

An artist’s impression of the University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) due for completion in mid-2013.

Recent mandatory disclosure legislation has also ratcheted up the pressure on building owners to improve the performance of their buildings through retrofitting energy efficient technologies to improve performance and attraction of tenants.

A similar philosophy should be adopted in manufacturing and process industries. Initial and continuous commissioning should be employed to ensure all equipment, measurement instrumentation and industrial utilities operate efficiently and reliably.

A Whole System Design (WSD) approach and comprehensive energy and environment management system (EEMS) should be adopted as well to systematically manage and control energy use.

In response to the need to improve research and training in energy efficiency enhancements through retrofitting of buildings and manufacturing/industry, a new centre is currently being established at the University of Wollongong (UOW). 

Construction of UOW's Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) is now underway at the University's Innovation Campus with completion scheduled for mid 2013.

Funded by substantial capital works grants from the Commonwealth and NSW State Governments the centre will be a unique facility with a primary research focus on technologies and systems for retrofitting of existing buildings and industry for sustainability.

As a 'Living Laboratory', the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) will provide a demonstration space for display of energy efficiency and sustainable building technologies.

The building has been designed to achieve a 6 Star Green Star Rating, and is aiming to be the first building in Australia to achieve Living Building Status through the Living Building Challenge.

Based on optimised passive design principles, natural ventilation and careful equipment selection, the SBRC will be an ultra-low energy building. The SBRC will produce more energy each year than it consumes by using a number of renewable on-site generation technologies including solar, wind and a variety of storage systems. 

The SBRC is currently offering a suite of energy efficiency training courses for engineers and other professionals, focussing on four key areas: (a) energy efficiency enhancements in industry (b) the built environment (c) electricity transmission, distribution and demand-side management and (d) changing user perceptions and behaviours.

[Professor Paul Cooper (pictured at top right) is Director, Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong.]

For more information on the building and courses go to sbrc.uow.edu.au