This is the third in a series on sustainability initiatives for the higher education sector – previous articles include a focus on Sustainability Bonds and the work of the Australian Campuses Towards Sustainability
Picture a typical well-established Australian university campus. It’s likely to comprise multiple buildings from old to new including offices, laboratories, research centres, teaching spaces, covered car parking, and sports centres.
The sustainability challenge is immense. Each of those buildings will be consuming vast amounts of energy in air conditioning, chillers, ducting systems, boilers, heating, lighting and the like.
Some systems will function more effectively than others, and those that do not perform optimally will add more than their fair share to the mounting energy bills – not to mention the environmental impact of a huge carbon footprint and the diversion of precious funds away from research and teaching and learning.
A unique big data and analytics platform – contained in a device the size of a mobile phone – is helping to deliver significant cost savings across campus energy and maintenance budgets, while also improving conditions for students and staff.
“You don’t need to make massive changes, you don’t need to install new equipment, you can actually just tune what’s already there and get huge cost saving benefits in months,” says Tom Ray, an environmental scientist and head of strategy and business development at CIM Enviro.
The ACE Platform, explains Ray, can detect in real time faults typically missed by a traditional Building Management System.
It then provides an instant diagnosis of each faults’ root cause, and automatically generates a solution designed to rectify each fault.
Reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint
“With ACE we reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of the built environment – it’s a neat segue of technology and sustainability,” says Ray.
The CIM Enviro team has deployed ACE at several Australian universities including the University of Canberra, UTS, Macquarie and the ANU, as well as a number of other organisations spanning commercial, retail, hospitality and government.
As just two examples, Ray reports that by using ACE one university is on track to save $80,000 a year in reduced energy costs in a single building, while another university saved $45,000 through validating the commissioning of a new building, before the university inherited it from their contractor.
On arrival at a problem building the CIM Enviro team ‘”plugs in” the tiny ACE device for free at a convenient spot.
“A building has all the sensors in it already that are needed to optimise it,” says Ray, “and essentially what ACE is doing is providing universities with a real-time MRI that scans their campus buildings 24/7 to detect and diagnose the most detailed of faults that cannot be picked up by existing systems”.
“So every time an air handling unit, a chiller, a boiler – any key consuming asset -goes into fault mode, or even if it moves even slightly away from how it should be performing, our system picks it up.”
On detecting the fault, ACE then signals the on-site team exactly where the problem is and directs the team accordingly.
“It will diagnose exactly the root cause of the fault and it will then provide a solution for each fault to be rectified,” Ray says.
Finally ACE quantifies how much each fault will cost if it is left in fault mode – “so essentially it allows universities to prioritise maintenance activity by fixing faults that will save more first”.
Clients can choose to deal with the building tuning analytics themselves – the “self serve” option – or to engage the CIM Enviro team for a “managed service”.
“With managed service we work with the on-site team and the on-site contractors to close out all the individual faults. Our expert team of mechanical, mechatronics and controls engineers remotely project manage contractors on behalf of the university facilities team, dealing with the finite level of detail, before reporting back to the university on energy saved, maintenance saved, and comfort improvements made,” he says.
“We also track contractor performance so the universities can see where they are getting value from their contractors and where they are not.”
Used in old and new buildings
The technology can be used in both old and new buildings. In new buildings, CIM Enviro can be involved from the commissioning stage.
“There is typically a year called the defects liability period – which is like a warranty on your mobile phone or car – and any fault identified during that period goes back to the contractor to fix at their cost. So essentially our analytics provide them with warranty coverage to ensure when that period is over they have inherited a fault free building This is a common problem we address across fast-growing universities,” he explains.
On older buildings – which can be “huge consumers of energy” – the ACE analytics help to reduce energy consumption and operational costs, which for a university would “allow them to put more money into research and teaching”.
There’s also a broader impact.
“If we reduce energy consumption then we reduce the number of fossil fuels that are being burned – and that’s the ultimate environmental impact we’re looking to achieve.”