Greenville, South Carolina, is proud to be the home of a nationally recognized school of impact—Furman University. Furman was founded in 1826 making it the oldest private university in South Carolina. What began as a small men’s academy and theological institute in 1826 has grown into the 750-acre campus enjoyed by 2,800 students from all walks of life each year.
Furman University has a very aggressive sustainability program in addition to high-caliber academics. The college clearly affirms that “sustainability is more than a buzzword. It’s part of our identity. Every year, we find new ways to infuse sustainability into our curriculum and operations.”1 The university’s commitment to sustainability is diverse in vision and scope. The university’s achievements put Furman at the top of its game when it comes to maintaining and ever improving the sustainability of its campus.
Buildings that house science laboratories are one of the biggest energy consumers on campus, as any college facilities manager will tell you. Laboratories must maintain precise environmental conditions around-the-clock to support successful academic and research experiments. The Townes Science Center at Furman University is no different. As Jimmy Looper, Furman’s Energy Manager, explains, “Approximately 40% of the Townes Center’s 205,000 square feet is dedicated to science laboratories, making it one of the highest energy-demand buildings on campus.”
The Townes Science Center utilizes a number of renewable energy components that have earned it LEED Gold certification. Its chilled-beam cooling system is one of them. The chilled-beam system blows air over cool-water-containing coil beams, and the cooled air is then distributed throughout the building. The system also has specialty air handlers fitted with heat recovery wheels to further increase thermal efficiency.
Getting a building as sophisticated as the Townes Science Center to operate properly is very challenging, and this building is no exception. It has never quite operated as intended. The system was originally designed for air exchange rates of six air changes per hour during occupied periods and four air changes per hour during unoccupied periods. Both of these rates are considered high exchange rates by today’s standards. The system’s controls and components were also showing signs of age and the building was experiencing comfort issues and unreliable laboratory environments.
The facilities team was manually collecting data on system performance and using it to address issues as they arose. The forward-thinking university, however, wanted to be proactive rather than reactive to problems. They wanted to optimize the Townes Center building system, and they knew that advanced analytics and control systems were needed to make it a reality.
Furman consulted with Building Clarity about the Townes Center issues. They explained their forward-looking desire to implement an advanced analytics platform to enable proactive building optimization. After listening to the university’s needs and goals, Building Clarity recommended a hybrid analytics-guided retro-commissioning of the system.
The advanced analytics platform was deployed at the Townes Center and is being used to identify and address system operational problems as the project proceeds. This real-time retro-commissioning approach enables immediate improvement of occupant comfort and laboratory environments, rather than waiting until the end of the diagnostic phase to do so. It also allows energy inefficiencies to be diagnosed and corrected in real-time.
Building Clarity used the deep data provided by the platform to suggest a change to the sequence of operations. The change would enhance the operating performance of the system and maximize cost savings. Some of the issues identified by the data include:
- A leaking preheat valve
- Inaccurate humidity sensors in need of calibration
- Air exchange rates that were not dropping as designed during unoccupied hours
- Air handlers that were not operating on the same setpoint and so were working against each other
Mr. Looper is part of the platform optimization team and reports that he enjoys the opportunity to develop the platform alongside the Building Clarity team. He also appreciates the robustness of the platform’s user dashboard which “presents data on energy use while also overlaying data on the HVAC equipment, sensors, and operations.” This enables the facilities team to identify and fix operational issues anywhere in the system.
Mr. Looper and the facilities team benefit from greater visibility into the building system even as the retro-commissioning continues. “The analytics provided by the platform have already identified a chilled water valve that had been manually opened,” Looper explains, “which was costing us an extra $10,000 per month at one air handler.”
When the retro-commissioning is completed and the advanced analytics platform is fully optimized for the new system, the college will be able to proactively address operational anomalies identified by the data before they become full-blown problems. They will also have accurate and complete data on the energy savings realized with the new system, which will advance their sustainability success even more.
“Working with the Building Clarity team is a great experience,” Looper reports. “They are very responsive and the staff are good to work with.” Furman University is so impressed with the Building Clarity advanced analytics platform that a “next steps” plan is in development: expanding the platform to be a campus-wide energy dashboard.
Building Clarity analytics and expertise—committed to optimized building operations and advanced sustainability!
1 Sustainability at Furman University: