Case Study: Optimization, Even for an Already Well-Running Chiller Plant, Saves Bucks

Baylor University, a private college in Waco, Texas, had a typical chiller plant – it ran well, but it was also a hodgepodge of equipment. The only major problem was that the plant was managed manually. Kenneth Haltom, who manages Baylor’s energy services through a partnership with Aramark, and his team suspected that chiller plant optimization would be the best way to increase efficiency and reduce related costs. After optimization, Baylor saved more than $460,000 in electricity costs. Here’s how.

 

Challenge: Automating a Heterogeneous Plant

Prior to optimization, plant operators judged when to add or shed load based on demand. Their criteria were sound, but unfortunately they acted on critical decisions, such as shifting a building’s temperature or starting or stopping equipment, only once per shift. Human error made the plant even more inefficient. For example, operators could interpret criteria differently, resulting in inconsistent system adjustments.

One thing standing in the way of chiller automation was complex hydraulics. The plant equipment varies widely – some of the eight chillers are 18 years old, while others are only a year old. Three have variable-speed drives, two have dual compressors, and each has different pressure drop and design flow. A fixed-valve solution to balance water flow between chillers was out of the question.

“We had to get the machines that don’t have variable-speed drives to work correctly with those that do, making sure the machines wouldn’t overflow, but we’d still get an efficient flow out of each of them,” said Haltom.

 

“Chiller optimization offered us the biggest bang for the buck when Baylor explored ways to reduce its energy spend…”

Solution: Finding the Ideal Balance Points

The energy team brought in Optimum Energy to assess the opportunity and found that their hypothesis about optimizing the chiller plant was right. The Baylor team decided to install Optimum’s OptimumLOOP software and the OptiCx platform

Optimum Energy’s OptimumLOOP is a closed-loop solution that reads data every 30 seconds and dynamically adjusts the chiller plant equipment in real time in response to changing conditions. The company’s engineers had to find the balance point for each chiller, whether it was running concurrently with the others or individually. To do this with a valve table would have meant determining the ideal valve sequence – out of a possible 256 combinations – that would enable the chillers to maintain appropriate water flows while operating as efficiently as possible. Since that was not a plausible approach, OptimumLOOP dynamically adjusts the control valves on all running chillers to maintain an equal percentage flow on each.

The solution uses proprietary algorithms, but as with all plants, Baylor’s combination of fixed- and variable-speed equipment required some customization to fit requirements. But since variable-speed drives were already installed on all pumps and cooling towers, installing the solution didn’t require any mechanical changes.

Now the software automatically determines the best operating conditions across the plant and makes on-the-fly changes to all of the chillers as well as the nine primary chilled water pumps, 11 condenser water pumps, and 13 cooling towers.

Now, everything is automatic, from slightly adjusting a single valve to improve water flow, to shedding entire machines from the system when demand decreases. “Each of the eight chillers operates at a different output and rate, depending on what gives us the greatest efficiency,” Haltom explains.

 

Result: Saving Money, Energy, and Carbon Emissions

Within the first year of installing Optimum’s OptimumLOOP software and the OptiCx platform, Baylor saved more than $460,000 in electricity costs. Demand for chilled water decreased across the campus and its air-conditioned spaces became more comfortable. The solution proved to be even more flexible than Haltom had expected.

The changes have saved Baylor about 24% of electricity costs and dramatically shrunk energy consumption. The university has also saved an average 5.8 million kilowatt-hours and 8.6 million pounds of CO2 per year.

“The product from the chiller plant is better, more consistent, and it’s now based on real-time load rather than operator guesses,” said Haltom. “Dynamically adjusting the chillers in real time has made a big difference in energy consumption.”

Also important to Haltom is how easy it is to maintain the chiller equipment. Staff can simply remove a component from the OptimumLOOP list, and after they’ve cleaned or repaired that item and restored it to the list, the component automatically goes back online. Optimum’s OptiCx platform allows the facilities team to dive into plant operations down to the equipment level. Now they can easily see what chillers are operating and when the next chiller will be added or shed, and compare building chilled water differential pressures throughout the campus.

“Chiller optimization offered us the biggest bang for the buck when Baylor explored ways to reduce its energy spend,” said Haltom. He adds that Optimum’s engineers “really understand the chiller equipment,” and the solution integrates seamlessly with the existing Siemens building automation system.”

 

Details

Cooling Plant:
Eight chillers, nine primary chilled water primary pumps, 11 condenser water pumps, and 13 cooling towers; Siemens building automation system. The plant is a mix of variable speed and constant speed equipment of different sizes. Annual energy consumption prior to optimization was 32 million kWh of electricity.

Financial savings (annual, projected):
Annual electricity costs: $464,000
Estimated ROI: 1.3 years


Vendors Mentioned Above

Optimum Energy

Siemens

 

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