Regular maintenance is important for more than just vehicles—buildings need it too, to perform at their best.

The Buchanan Tower and Neville Scarfe buildings at UBC are currently being serviced through a Continuous Optimization energy-savings pilot project, a three-phase, behind-the-scenes exercise designed to help buildings operate as efficiently as their age and condition will allow.

“Continuous Optimization is like a building energy tune-up, the same as you would have an automobile tune-up,” says Orion Henderson, Director of Campus Sustainability at UBC.

Although both the Buchanan Tower and Neville Scarfe buildings have previously undergone large retrofits to upgrade their systems for energy efficiency, today’s Continuous Optimization process applies simple, yet effective, strategies to tweak existing systems, shave off as much electrical and thermal energy as possible, and reap results within a two-year payback period.

The work began in 2009 with an investigation phase, a year-long process during which all the buildings’ operating controls, systems, and occupancy patterns were dissected to identify areas where energy use could be reduced. Investigators then identified solutions, created a strategy to move forward, and set conservation targets.

For example, the investigation showed that hot water pumps were running all night at Neville Scarfe, when the building was empty. The recommended solution was to turn off the pumps at night to save energy during those hours, and then monitor the results.

Both buildings are now in the second phase, implementation, which began in July 2010, and the strategies are being put to the test. The work involves installing low-energy fluorescent light bulbs and re-setting controls and re-programming systems to manage heating, cooling and ventilation more intelligently.

The work is about 70 per cent complete, and Henderson says the exciting part about Continuous Optimization is that it reaps instant results. “As soon as you implement the measure, you should start to see energy savings, so as you implement the measures, you are able to track the savings.”

Since the implementation began at Buchanan Tower in July of 2010, electricity use in the building has been reduced by about 275 kWh a day, an improvement of 15 per cent. In Neville Scarfe, the results are equally impressive. Electricity use has been reduced by about 450 kWh a day, an 11 per cent improvement since July, and steam use has been reduced by 27 per cent since September.

Both Buchanan Tower and Neville Scarfe had energy meters installed in an earlier retrofit process called EcoTrek, which makes them ideal buildings to test the effectiveness of the Continuous Optimization measures being implemented. “It really shows the obvious benefit of having metering at the building level because you can actually see the savings,” Henderson says.

A key tool used to monitor the savings and identify opportunities for conservation is an energy dashboard created by Pulse Energy that pulls information from the energy meters in Buchanan Tower and Neville Scarfe and displays the data in real time on the Internet.

“We’re seeing our energy savings and the cool thing is, at least for some of the measures, we’re seeing more savings than we had anticipated, which is always nice,” says Natalie Vadeboncoeur, a mechanical engineer who is assisting UBC in the optimization process.

The hand-off phase, the third step in the process, begins in April 2011. At that point, UBC will monitor the strategies implemented to keep the buildings running at optimal performance.

The pilot project at Buchanan Towers and Neville Scarfe is part of a larger UBC initiative launched in July 2010, in partnership with BC Hydro, to optimize all large core academic buildings, 72 in total. The first 17 buildings are in the investigation stage of the optimization process. “These are the real energy hogs of the campus, if you like, the intensive laboratory buildings,” says Andrew Collins, Associate Director of Project Services, Infrastructure Development at UBC.

The lessons learned from the pilot will be applied to the larger Continuous Optimization efforts at UBC, which will eventually span the entire campus.

Continuous Optimization at UBC is a key part of the University’s efforts to meet its target of a 33 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 and 67 per cent by 2020. The program is also identified in the Government of BC’s Climate Action Plan.

As buildings are optimized, the key will be to engage building occupants in the energy saving process, says Collins.

“Continuous Optimization is not just the initial thrust, it is an ongoing process as far as the operators, and as far as the users, are concerned. We want to continue to encourage the building users to switch off those lights and switch off those computers.”

Story by Madelen Ortega, UBC Sustainability Initiative website writer