Applying smart building technologies at a college

A college campus used BAS and data analytics to improve energy performance.


Figure 2: Comfort Visualization: SFC uses a summary thermographic to evaluate comfort conditions across the campus. Green indicates optimum conditions while red indicates comfort alarms. Santa Fe College (SFC) is a public college with campuses spread across North Central Florida. With nearly 24,000 students, it is one of the largest such schools in the United States.

SFC has reduced its energy use intensity every year for the past 8 years. Initial energy savings came from a wide variety of capital improvement projects that included equipment and system replacement. However, with capital improvement funding becoming scarce, the challenge was to maintain the energy use intensity’s downward trend.

SFC first turned to optimization of its existing BAS. The college added air and water side resets, used optimal start to bring equipment on only when needed, and pursued demand control ventilation strategies, among other low- to no-cost strategies. While this complexity was added to save energy, SFC gave its operators a simplified interface and provided advanced training to understand how these complex strategies worked.

Figure 3: Santa Fe College’s (SFC) energy use intensity (kBtu/sq ft/yr) has been steadily decreasing for the past several years. Initial savings were attributed to capital improvement projects. However, as capital improvement projects have shrunk over the past couple years, SFC has continued to reduce its energy use intensity, primarily due to data analytics. Once these strategies were implemented, SFC turned to data analytics and visualization techniques. SFC invested in additional instrumentation and metering to measure equipment performance. All the data produced by building system instrumentation was stored in a common data historian, in an open database format. All data was normalized at 15-minute intervals. SFC, through its annual services consultant, then developed equipment-specific algorithms, rules, and queries to continuously analyze data and transform it into information that SFC now uses to respond to alarms, find energy anomalies, and aid in troubleshooting.

SFC is taking advantage of free data visualization tools to identify patterns. It uses a “calendar view” tool from data driven documents to plot energy use intensity per day. This immediately revealed higher than normal energy use on Mondays. With demand charges being a major portion of its monthly utility bill, the visualization tool provided SFC with a major piece to the puzzle of lowering its monthly energy bill.

SFC also uses visualization techniques to instantly review comfort conditions across the entire campus. Previously, this task involved visiting each building floor plan, space by individual space (see Figure 2).

SFC has reported 12% energy savings over the past 2 years, crediting data analytics and visualization techniques—subsequent to low- or no-cost software programming and minor adjustments—as the main reasons for this success.

“In the past couple years our spending on capital projects has been drastically reduced,” says Bill Reese, Santa Fe College’s associate vice president of facilities. “However, data analytics and visualization has allowed us to continue to save energy year after year.” 

Sanjyot V. Bhusari is Affiliated Engineers Inc.’s intelligent buildings practice leader. He has more than 15 years’ experience optimizing existing BASs, improving facility management business processes, and developing system integration solutions and data analytics for health care, higher education, medical science, and research facility projects. He is the project manager for Santa Fe College’s continuous data analytics initiatives.

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