Drexel University Updates its Energy Master Plan

drexel_universityDrexel University has not updated its energy master plan for seven years, which is a long time in the rapidly changing world of energy.

The situation is about to be rectified. The school, in accordance with new benchmarking requirements from the city of Philadelphia, has commissioned Concord Engineering to bring the school’s plan up to date.

This project is differentiated in its scope and the fact that it involves multiple locations. In all, the project covers 87 buildings and 6.7 million square feet, according to Jim Gardler, the Director of Concord’s Philadelphia office.

That lion’s share of the project is University City, which consists of 82 buildings that cover 6.6 million square feet. That is not all, however. The Health Science Campus Operation consists of three buildings of 170,000 square feet and the Academy of Natural Sciences Building is 600,000 square feet. Finally, there is a building of 260,000 square feet at Queens Lane. “Drexel is unique,” Gardler said. “It is not a traditional centralized plan. It is distributed all of the city of Philadelphia. That makes it pretty unique.”

Helping such a large and dispersed organization assess their energy use and find avenues to more efficient behavior is a challenge. The first steps have nothing to do with assessing equipment, insulation or other gear. Indeed, it is appropriate, since Drexel is a college: The first step is studying. Concord will develop deep understandings of both how the organization is procuring and using energy by assessing bills, contracts, meter readings and anything else that can create a fuller picture of energy life of the many buildings.

The next step will be to create a relationship with the Drexel operations staff. How things are done on the ground adds a dimension that augments an assessment of bills, meter data and energy contracts.

It is then that Concord teams – of perhaps a dozen engineers at a time – will start hands-on assessments of individual buildings. The first major element that is assessed is the building envelop. “That is the first line of resistance against the element,” Gardler said.

Such projects generally are divided into several categories. There is low hanging fruit, such as changing out of legacy lighting for LEDs and installation of sensors that turn out the lights when a room is unoccupied. There also are deeper inspections of more fundamental elements of the infrastructure.

For instance, Gardler says that at Drexel some buildings share HVAC systems. Performance of these systems must be assessed both in terms of how each operates in in its own building the efficacy of the sharing arrangement, Gardler said. “Drexel is operating what they have very efficiently and utilizing the technology and expertise that they have on staff. But I would say there is room for improvement with potential [addition of] renewable energy systems, combining of system and making them run more efficiently and generating heat and power at the same time in a smaller scale approach compared to a large centralized plant.”

Gardler says that the final recommendations likely will be presented to Drexel in the fall. Undergoing such a process is a bit different at a university than a private business. In short, the students can learn many valuable lessons. This is particularly true at a school such as Drexel, which is oriented to technology.

The benchmarking requirement from the city initially “caused a lot of grief in the beginning.” In the long run, however, it was the start of a good thing. “You need to compare yourself to your own performance,” Gardler said. “You also need to compare yourself to your peers to push the edge to continuously improve. An energy management plan should be a never end process. You should continue to look to improve what you are doing and set new benchmarks.”

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