Like a highly skilled tightrope walker, UTS Facilities Manager Chris Lane treads a fine line between keeping staff and students cool and minimising energy costs and our environmental footprint.
“Building management is changing. The industry and sustainability demands it,” Chris explains. “In the past, building management has always been aimed at the comfort of the occupants, which is obviously still one of the major goals. But now we’re really trying to combine it with energy management and reducing energy consumption.”
With our busy campus filled with around 45,000 students and more than 3,600 staff, the energy needs of the university are considerable. Essential building services like air conditioning, lighting, lifts and escalators have to stay on, so building managers are getting smarter about reducing energy demands.
“Technology is definitely becoming a big part of the building management industry, things are moving quickly in that regard. There are a lot of options for new systems that can analyse all your data and look at ways of saving energy,” says Chris.
Using a high-tech Building Management System (BMS), UTS’s seven facility managers incorporate timetable information with data from sensors that monitor environmental factors (like room temperature) to control lights, heating and cooling. The latest technology analytics can identify individual pieces of equipment with high energy use, and consumption can be reduced by ensuring they only operate when needed.
But finding smart solutions on campus is only part of the story. UTS is part of a bigger-picture initiative that’s delivering capacity back to the grid. The innovative ‘demand response’ pilot program signs up organisations that use significant amounts of energy, to make a commitment to reduce power usage at peak times.
Demand response gives an alternative to increasing overall capacity, which brings redundancy and adds to emissions.
“It’s usually those days that are high 30s, especially on weekdays when all the buildings are fully occupied,” says Chris. “Around 1pm or 2pm, when the heat load is highest for the day, AGL will send through the request to wind back pieces of equipment.”
The quickest way to have a big impact is to switch off one of the chillers that cool water for air conditioning. Each building runs multiple chillers, so air conditioning stays on but runs at slightly lower capacity. The concrete structure and the design of UTS buildings means they can retain their cool for hours, so staff and students stay comfortable.
“We’re trying to make a difference. We’re trying to be a green university. And it’s not just because energy prices are at an all-time high, it’s because we’re trying to reduce our footprint and be responsible,” explains Chris.
“We’re also trying to ensure the grid remains reliable as aged coal generators retire and are replaced by modern technology like wind, solar and pumped hydro. Sydney’s grid is probably much better than most but the demand on it is always increasing.”
And what about the staff and students who prefer to work in an icy-cold climate all through the year?
“Everyone wants the world to change for the better and to do their bit for sustainability but when it affects us on a personal level, people are a little bit more reluctant. This is a chance for people to make an impact by working with us to reduce our consumption and contribute to our electricity grid remaining reliable at the lowest cost possible.”