COVID, sustainability drive college electrical, power design
Colleges and universities have been sustainability trendsetters over the past several years. COVID-19 has required designers to think differently
- Kim Cowman, PE, LEED AP, National Director of Engineering, LEO A DALY, Omaha, Nebraska
- Daniel S. Noto, PE, LEED AP, Owner, Noto Consulting Group LLC, Roswell, Georgia
- Coral Pais, PE, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Mechanical Engineer, DLR Group, Cleveland, Ohio
- John M. Rattenbury, PE, LEED AP, Vice President, Cannon Design, Boston
- Luke Richards, PE, Project Engineer, RMF Engineering Inc., Raleigh, North Carolina
- Simon Ubhi, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Henderson Engineers, Los Angeles
- Toby White, PE, LEED AP, Associate – Boston Fire and life Safety Practice Leader, Arup, Boston
Are there any issues unique to designing electrical/power systems for these types of facilities?
Simon Ubhi: Flexibility is required. Electrical/power requirements change as funding becomes available and new equipment is procured. It is important to consider designs that allow for updates to the power delivery without impacting the useability of the lab for extended periods of time.
It is also imperative to understand the users’ needs and the tasks involved to design the proper redundancy into the power system.
What types of unusual standby, emergency or backup power systems have you specified for such facilities?
Simon Ubhi: Many laboratory buildings require some type of standby power systems. We have seen everything from the whole building backed up by generator and select loads on a centralized uninterruptable power supply to individual pieces of equipment on their own local uninterruptable power supplies. In some laboratories, depending on the function and chemicals used, the fume hoods may fall under legally required standby or possibly even emergency power. Some lab processes take days or weeks to complete and it is important for the electrical engineer to understand this and provide the proper standby power to avoid costly and timely interruptions.
How has “smart” lighting influenced classrooms and laboratories? What tactics should electrical engineers use when designing these systems?
Simon Ubhi: “Smart” lighting allows for more flexibility and user control in the spaces while also providing for energy efficiencies. With the nature of university classrooms being used by a wide variety of professors and staff, this is important. However, it is also important to keep the systems and user interfaces simple. Something too complex is difficult for the occupant to pick up in the short amount of time they use the space.
What are some key differences in electrical, lighting and power systems you might incorporate in this kind of facility, compared to other projects?
Simon Ubhi: Some labs may have photosensitive requirements and require a special color of light. Some facilities may require a much more extensive grounding system. And some facilities may require a more redundant electrical distribution system that may include main-tie-main switchgear, draw-out breakers, paralleled generators or centralized uninterruptable power supply systems. Additionally, a lot of lab equipment is manufactured in Europe and may have special power system requirements that need to be taken into account when designing the electrical distribution system for the facility. Some facilities may require protected equipment from either weather events or vandals to improve reliability. For example, it may be best to locate generators indoors and/or on an upper floor for a facility located in an area prone to hurricanes and flooding.
How does your team work with the architect, owner’s rep and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable?
Simon Ubhi: Up front communication is key. The engineer must understand how the space is to be used and consider possible future updates, changes and technologies. Having this discussion up front and throughout the design with the architect, owner’s rep and other project team members allows for integrated electrical/power systems that will be easily convertible to meet future user needs.
What kind of lighting designs have you incorporated into college or university project, either for energy efficiency or to increase the occupant’s experience?
Simon Ubhi: Lighting design is important in these environments and delivering the light in a shadow-free manner, while lighting not only the laboratory benches but also vertical surfaces such as shelving, to the proper light level can be challenging. Often, overhead service carriers make this even more difficult. An indirect lighting solution can oftentimes accomplish the best light distribution for laboratories. However, floor to floor heights in an existing building don’t always allow for this.