Exploring the high demands for higher education facilities: electrical/lighting/power

The design process for higher education facilities has its own set of challenges and requirements. Engineers discuss the current trends, challenges, and experiences with college and university facility projects regarding electrical/lighting/power.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer October 21, 2016



Mark Fisher, PE, LEED AP, Principal, AlfaTech, San Jose, Calif.

Scott Foster, PE, LEED AP, Principal, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Chicago

Keith Hammelman, PE, Senior Vice President, CannonDesign, Chicago

Tom Hickey, PE, Plant and Building Services Market Leader, Stanley Consultants, Muscatine, Iowa

James Newman, PE, CEM, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C, High Performance Design Team, Leader, EYP Architecture & Engineering, Boston

Jose I. Torres, PE, MBA, Project Manager/Mechanical Engineer, RMF Engineering Inc., Raleigh, N.C.

CSE: Describe a recent electrical/power system challenge you encountered when working on a college/university building, such as a building with offices, labs, classrooms, etc.

Foster: As part of our power system design for a recent higher education project, we were challenged with integrating new electrical metering and other electrical equipment (automatic transfer switches, generator, medium-voltage pad-mounted switchgear) with the owner’s existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Coordination with the owner’s SCADA integrator was required to clearly document the demarcation of work between the project’s electrical contractor and the SCADA integrator to ensure the elimination of any scope gaps. This meant integrating the varied equipment based on the equipment type being served.

CSE: How do you work with the architect, owner, and other project team members to make the electrical/power system both flexible and sustainable at the same time?

Fisher: We coordinate electrical spaces that are adequately sized and centrally located. We include provisions for future solar equipment, even if it is not part of the current project. Energy-efficient transformers are our first design option. We prefer wireless lighting controls on each lighting fixture, making reconfiguration of spaces easy and seamless.

Foster: Each person involved in any given project has a different goal they are looking to achieve, which defines their standards of a project’s success. Whether it is budget, achieving a targeted square footage of program space, aesthetics, reliability, or growth flexibility in the electrical system, all these variables have to be considered when deciding how to arrange the electrical infrastructure and where to locate the equipment. Listening and understanding the goals of everyone who has a vested interest in the success of a project seems obvious, yet it is sometimes an overlooked step in the design process.

CSE: What types of smart grid or microgrid capabilities are owners demanding, and how have you served these needs? Are there any issues unique to these specialty projects?

Foster: While microgrid capabilities often allow the flexibility to access the most economically advantageous energy source at a given time, a bigger driver is resiliency, especially for campuses located in areas subject to catastrophic weather events. For example, when the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston was affected by Hurricane Ike. Ideally, a microgrid project wouldn’t be initiated on a disaster-recovery timetable, but it’s important to be watchful for opportunities wherever they present themselves. In the case of UTMB, hurricane damage presented an opportunity to replace steam distribution with a more efficient, more robust hot-water system.

Fisher: We have provided onsite generation of electrical power using solar, fuel cells, co-generation, and microturbines on higher education projects. These sources are generally connected to the electrical distribution system in a manner that allows them to become part of a microgrid as opportunities arise. Our energy solutions group is well-versed at providing lifecycle cost analyses for various options to determine the total return on investment for each system type.

CSE: College/university buildings often require low-, medium-, and high-voltage electrical systems. Describe the design of each system, and how you overcame challenges such as coordinating load, mitigating harmonics, fiber optics, etc.

Fisher: Larger campuses generally benefit from the cost savings of medium-voltage electrical distribution on campuses. Generally, the equipment is located outside and requires coordination among different disciplines. Engineers need to be familiar with radial and loop designs and equipment options in order to work with the schools to determine the best solution for each campus. We have had problems with leaking oil-filled transformers and have had to work with manufacturers on replacement coordination. Other problems include working with older systems—physical replacement of components—and coordination with new systems where information on the older relays is difficult to obtain.

Foster: Oftentimes, the design of a building’s medium-voltage system requires involvement of the campus’ utilities engineers and coordination of work with equipment located far beyond the project’s scope of work. For a university health care project requiring a new unit substation with medium-voltage feed, coordination with the campus utility engineers was required to provide power to that unit substation, but not use the final remaining spare circuit breaker at the upstream paralleling switchgear. Additionally, an existing duct bank containing a 5-kV medium-voltage feed from a generator plant located remotely as well as 15-kV utility feeds had to be relocated to accommodate the building’s new additional footprint. Coordination between the campus utility engineers as well as the project contractor was critical to ensure minimal downtime to the facility’s power supply during the switchover from the existing feeder to the new feeder. The switchover on the utility side required multiple switching, which occurred remotely from the project site.

CSE: Is LED lighting in high demand from college/university facilities? If so, describe a recent lighting design project.

Newman: LED lighting is an affordable way for college/university facilities to make an energy-efficient design decision and has become the new standard of design in nearly all lighting applications for the following three reasons: 1) LED lighting has continually decreased in initial cost while increasing light output capabilities to now be competitive with any available light source. 2) With the continued increase of energy code stringency for lighting-power-density allowances, LED lighting is typically the only option to meet the requirements of the latest versions of ASHRAE 90.1. 3) The increased capabilities of LED lighting in regards to dimming, color availability, shape, and aesthetic integration options give it superior advantages over many other forms of interior lighting.

Fisher: We are seeing a shift in the industry to LED lighting both indoors and outdoors to meet energy budgets and to allow greater flexibility in lighting controls for daylighting in particular. The cost difference between LED and dimmable fluorescent is negligible, driving the switch to LED. In addition, the longer lamp life makes maintenance easy on universities with tight maintenance budgets.

Hammelman: Many clients, like Yale University, recognize the benefits LED technology brings to the table, especially regarding energy and maintenance savings and system flexibility. In a recent project upgrading their laboratory facilities, Yale took advantage of the significant reductions in consumed lighting power LED systems can achieve by deploying an all-LED solution, which achieved a 41% savings in energy as compared with the limits allowed by code. The long lifespan of the LED system makes required maintenance much less frequent, and the ability to inexpensively dim the LED luminaries gives Yale a helpful tool to transform different spaces for a variety of uses. This same consideration is driving almost universal implementation of LEDs as campus standards in many facilities. Another one of our clients, Harper Community College in Schaumburg, Ill., has adopted the use of LED fixtures throughout for new construction and renovations.

Foster: We have seen higher education clients request 100% LED lighting design. For an athletic facility project, LED lighting created unique design opportunities, such as color-changing technologies supporting different functions, whether for game day conditions or recruiting ambiance. As a newer lighting technology, LED requires special consideration of glare and the relationship between lumen depreciation and maintaining appropriate light levels.