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7 Steps to Optimizing a Central Plant

Aug 1, 2011 12:00 PM Optimization of a central chiller plant can achieve and sustain ongoing energy and cost savings

The demand among building owners and operators for increased efficiency is driven by a number of factors, including increasing utility savings, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and enhancing public image. Furthermore, government mandates continue to demand increased levels of energy efficiency, and the industry standard for greenbuilding certification is becoming increasingly stringent. Local utility rebates make energy-saving initiatives even more attractive. Although the drivers for energy-efficient investments are many, one of the largest barriers to building owners making these investments is limited capital availability. Financial limitations underscore the importance of finding ways to do more to enhance building efficiency with fewer dollars. To meet the triple bottom line of sustainability— fiscal, environmental, and social—organizations are taking a holistic look at their building operations. Approaching the Limit for Efficiency Over the past 25 years, the efficiency of HVAC equipment has increased steadily. In some cases, the efficiency of these components, such as chillers, has improved by as much as 40 percent. However, HVAC equipment alone will not achieve optimal energy savings. The industry is quickly approaching the limit of how much efficiency can be expected from individual components. Similar gains cannot reasonably be expected in the future.

consulting engineers and building owners can take advantage of the opportunities presented by central-plant optimization. Taking a holistic view of the central plant reveals many opportunities for savings that previously were unattainable. The central chilled-water plant is the largest consumer of energy within a building. A Checklist for Achieving Central-Plant Optimization Even as new energy targets are being defined. Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is developing new energy targets based on the performance of a building as a whole. Today. Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. the central plant represents the biggest opportunity for saving energy. a whole-building philosophy to central-plant optimization is generating industry attention. rather than full-load design conditions.1. The American Society of Heating. As such. 2. . Design or retrofit the central plant with a flexible infrastructure. According to a recently released committee report. consuming as much as 30 percent of a facility’s power. This is because traditional methods of plant operation and maintenance treat the plant as a collection of disparate pieces of mechanical equipment. and achieving a faster payback on upgrade investments. Choose HVAC components (particularly chillers) based on real-world operating conditions. Consider the following as a checklist for optimizing your central plant: 1.Central chilled-water plants often fail to maintain their anticipated efficiency level over time. including headered piping and variable-speed pumping. reducing environmental impact. Engineers must look beyond the component level to reach today’s aggressive efficiency goals. one of the society’s goals is to develop standards for the calculation of buildingwide energy use so that ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90. can include system-level efficiency targets beginning in 2016.

3. adding VSD’s to chillers. Integrate networked optimization software to optimize the plant. they must be applied and operated appropriately. Take advantage of the environment. The infrastructure should allow for flexibility across the life cycle of the system.and predictivemaintenance program. Improper component application diminishes system . Identify operational issues with a comprehensive preventive. and cooling-tower fans. 7. 6. run it at 44°F. Instead. STEP 2: Select Components Based on Real-World Operating Conditions A building's HVAC components often are chosen based on their efficiency at full-load design operating conditions. These changes may include upgrading piping configurations. and headered piping allows the most flexible range of control. 5. Greater control flexibility can result in significant energy savings when leveraged correctly. Do not push too much or too little water through the chiller. the most flexible. verify. Install equipment that is capable of taking advantage of colder condenser-water temperatures available during the majority of operating hours. In the design of a new chilled-water system. A chiller with a more favorable part-load efficiency profile will demonstrate superior performance in a real-world environment. Apply HVAC components in a way that maximizes the specific operating and efficiency strengths of those components. while too little water may diminish the efficiency of the chiller itself. Some best practices for equipment application include:    Run the plant at its designed chilled-water temperature. Too much water may decrease the efficiency of the overall system. STEP 1: Create a Flexible Infrastructure The foundation of an optimized central plant is a well-designed system infrastructure. leading to improved return on investment. 4. the payback can be demonstrated quickly. In existing buildings. A well-designed plant will run at a higher level over its life cycle. efficient system infrastructure combines a headered pumping system with variable-primary-flow pumping. pumps. addressing design deficiencies can help achieve better results. Variable-speed drives (VSD’s) increase efficiency potential. Measure. and automating the plant. STEP 3: Properly Apply the Components After the right components are selected. Although it may be more expensive to design or retrofit a plant with flexible infrastructure. the best practice is to select plant components that will operate most efficiently at the conditions at which they will run most often. If the plant was designed to run at 44°F. Automate the chiller plant with a modern building-automation system. and manage energy performance. Running the plant at 42°F will reduce its efficiency.

The most advanced optimization software has relational-control algorithms that optimize all the equipment so that each component uses the least amount of power required to meet the load and maintain occupant comfort. These systems enhance plant efficiency further with tuning algorithms that adjust control routines continually based on system dynamics and seasonal changes. These optimization solutions are scalable for any building or campus. Building stakeholders can test-drive optimization software at one location and then scale it across an entire enterprise or portfolio of buildings. Intelligent optimization software understands the efficiencies of system components. and management of central-plant operating performance. STEP 4: Maximize Efficiency With Building Automation Building owners who have a building-automation system (BAS) in place have more opportunities for enhanced efficiencies. decreasing the cost and risk to project stakeholders. A modern BAS offers monitoring and reporting tools to help sustain central-plant performance over time. Not Reactive. These networked solutions also deliver Webbased. Historically. making it possible for building operators to increase and sustain energy savings over both the short.and long-term. This type of specialized software once was available only as a custom solution. such as a multisite health-care organization or a university with a campus of buildings. maintenance was primarily reactionary. although the impact can go unnoticed if central-plant performance is not being monitored effectively. If cold air was not being . With VSD's. verification. rather than solely a load basis. A building with a BAS is positioned to take advantage of today’s optimization software. Even the most skilled human facility operators will struggle to match the efficiency and effectiveness of a modern BAS.efficiency. a BAS can select the right speed at which to operate pumps and tower fans. The optimization software evaluates the building data and makes recommendations for the BAS to execute. The system's sequence is optimized on an energy basis. STEP 6: Aim for Predictive. but today's software offerings are standardized and scalable. Maintenance The role of maintenance has evolved over time and is critical to optimizing a central plant. real-time measurement. A BAS will start the proper equipment at the right time to maximize efficiency based on the run history and efficiency profile. STEP 5: Take Central Plants Further With Networked Optimization Software Networked optimization software is the intelligent logic that holistically operates a plant in the most efficient manner by taking full advantage of the capabilities of a BAS. Control setpoints are calculated automatically based on real-time building-load-data inputs received from the BAS. This enables central plants to meet the required load with the least amount of energy possible.

and managed regularly as part of a continuous commissioning process. including to mobile devices. Dave Klee is director of Optimized Building Solutions for Johnson Controls. The evolution to predictive maintenance has placed an inherently different responsibility on the people who provide service. The visibility of data also has improved with easier-to-read graphs and analysis tools to enable a timely diagnosis of underperformance on energy dashboards and kiosks. verification. these measures can be implemented while maintaining day-to-day operations. and drives the direction of Johnson Controls' optimization offerings. which ultimately helps improve an organization's bottom line. and resolve system faults quickly. Operators then can detect. diagnose. STEP 7: Measure. Seize the Opportunity Building owners and operators must seize the opportunity to increase energy and operational efficiencies by taking a holistic view of where their organization consumes the most energy: the central plant. and management data. Web-based tools provide operating and performance data around the clock. Alerts and notifications can be sent automatically. maintenance is predictive and essential to maintaining the optimization of central chilled-water plants. He is also a LEED accredited professional. it was a signal that something was wrong. verified. That was followed by a focus on maintaining occupant comfort and increasing efficiency. The importance of measurement has not gone unnoticed across the industry. These tools provide continuous feedback by providing detailed. which meant maintenance became more routine and more proactive. Optimizing a central plant provides the potential to achieve and sustain ongoing energy and cost savings. real-time and historical data. He graduated from the University of Michigan College of Engineering and earned his MBA at Babson College in Wellesley. incuding central-plant optimization. The industry is considering the development of a buildingclassification system that would require owners to measure the performance of a central plant continuously and post updated efficiency levels regularly. . He closely monitors market trends and customer requirements. He is responsible for the successful implementation of optimized HVAC systems. Mass. The availability and visibility of real-time building data enables systems managers to find and address performance drift quickly and easily. With today's ultra-efficient components. He is in his 15th year with the company. Verify. Central-plant optimization provides the road map for facilities owners or managers looking to improve energy efficiency. and the appropriate fixes were made. ASHRAE is taking notice of the value delivered by real-time measurement. and Manage Performance Data To make sure efficiency levels are being maintained over a plant's lifecycle. Issues with performance can be identified long before degradation results in significant loss of efficiency.delivered. performance data must be measured. Best of all.