New Grand Valley State Building Will Pump up Conservation to Push Down Utility Costs

New Grand Valley State Building Will Pump up Conservation to Push Down Utility Costs
December 29, 2010/Crain's Detroit Business

By Judy McGovern

Grand Valley State University has an ambitious goal for the new library it will open in 2013: The Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons will use half as much energy as a typical building its size.

Don't expect photovoltaic panels or wind turbines.

The strategy isn't to replace one kind of power source with another, but to curtail energy use where ever possible.

"We looked at geothermal, solar cells and a solar wall," said Grand Valley's James Moyer, assistant vice president for facilities. "But, after an analysis, we discarded those options. Those systems would fail before we'd see a return on the investment. We went back to avoiding energy use, conserving."

Technology and changes in human behavior are crucial. And Moyer is getting help on both areas.

The U.S. Department of Energy is providing scientists and engineers from Pacific Northwest National, a DOE lab, to help Grand Valley's design team find ways to reduce energy consumption.

The DOE experts will review proposals and plans, and provide a second opinion, Moyer said.

In addition, DOE's three-year commitment to the project includes the installation of instruments to verify building performance, he said. "The goal is to make what's learned transferrable."

The library project is one of 24 across the U.S. that together will receive $21 million in technical assistance through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Grand Valley's share is likely to be close to $500,000.
SHW Group
An artist's rendering of the new library.

The cost of the 140,000-square-foot library will approach $70 million, driven in part by high-efficiency energy systems and controls.

For example, Grand Valley will use an underfloor air distribution system. Such systems put heating and cooling in the space people occupy, the lowest 6 feet in a given room, Moyer said. However, it requires careful installation and wouldn't be used in a typical office building where cost per square foot is critical.

"For a building we're going to keep for 50 years," he said, "we believe it makes sense."

Engineers will, at every opportunity, design systems that roll back energy consumption when spaces aren't in use, Moyer said.

That means employing the kind of motion-detection light shut-offs increasingly found in office settings and taking steps to cut heat and cooling when an individual is away on vacation.

"We don't want to let a space freeze or overheat, but we are asking whether offices are responding to people in the room," he says. "How do you best operate a 10-square-foot office?"

The ways people use lighting, climate control and "plug load" — the demand created by computers and other equipment — are all in the mix.

"If you're someone who tends to be cold, do you bring extra socks or an electric heater to work?" asked Moyer, an architect who was responsible for facilities in Arlington County, Va., before coming to Grand Valley. "We're putting that in the calculations now, because this won't work if users don't buy in."

Building planners are talking with library faculty and staff members about shifting their thinking. "People have been receptive," Moyer said.

Jason Bing understands the focus on conservation.

As project manager at the Ann Arbor-based Energy Works, Bing and his colleagues take an efficiency-first approach in their work with K-12 schools.

"Public institutions can really help push us forward to a green economy when they put alternative energy systems in place," he said. "The visibility helps demystify the technology. But it doesn't make any sense to think about that until you've taken care of the conservation side."

Supported by the state Public Services Commission, the nonprofit Energy Works provides technical assistance to more than 60 public and private schools in the state.

Before Energy Works will talk about alternative energy, participating schools have to demonstrate a commitment to energy conservation.

"We look at their utility bills against K-12 benchmarks," Bing said. "If they're underachieving, we provide help from architects or engineers who can identify where the problems are and prioritize the work that should be done."

Small grants are available to help pay for improvements. Contractors replace old windows and boilers, and caulk leaks to translate their work into savings.

"It's cheaper to save a kilowatt than generate one," Bing said, "so before investing in what can be expensive technology, we promote efficiency first."

Contractors replacing old windows or boilers, or caulking leaks in elementary schools can count on having their work translate into savings.

Those working on the Pew library will face a very different situation.

"We have companies telling us they can do this work, but it's going to be a challenge," Grand Valley's Moyer said. "We want to manage all leaks to near zero."

The 50-percent-less-energy target for the new building is based on standards devised by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (www.ashrae.org). The group sets and regularly updates standards that determine "normal" energy consumption.

Estimates are subject to fluctuations in energy prices, but Grand Valley is now budgeting about $235,000 a year for utility costs for the new building. That number is based on current prices, Moyer said. The assumption is that a conventional building with the same size and function would require more than $500,000 a year.

Seeing the results will let Grand Valley apply what it learns at the new library to other campus buildings. The information will also be available far beyond west Michigan: DOE officials say they want to ensure that lessons from all the projects can be quickly adopted by the marketplace.

The information should be useful to all types of organizations, noted Moyer. Although the library will include some large and fairly unusual spaces, it will also be home to standard offices.

"We think we can get some meaningful savings by handing those 10-by-10 spaces differently."



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