FS and Law School Staff Partner to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The University of Chicago is a proud United States Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® Partner, collaborating with peer institutions to reduce higher education campus energy usage. The goal of this energy efficiency program is to: (1) reduce the impact on the environment as about 70 percent of University greenhouse gas emissions are from energy usage in campus buildings; (2) redirect funds currently going to utility providers back into maintenance of our campus buildings; and (3) reduce the risk of disruption to our educational and research mission by locating and correcting issues before systems and components in our buildings fail.   

As a key component of our campus energy efficiency program, the Preventative Maintenance and Commissioning (PM+Cx) strategy is designed to provide an in-depth look at building systems and components to find and fix equipment that is underperforming due primarily to changes in building use over time.  A common example of an issue that PM+Cx identifies and addresses is “simultaneous heating and cooling” which occurs when building air conditioning and heating systems fight each other instead of working together to keep space temperatures comfortable for building users. These types of issues cause systems and components to work harder than they should, using more energy and shortening their service life. This program looks at the building holistically instead of piecemeal which allows our talented and engaged team of University technicians to proactively use their expertise and experience to help prevent costly and disruptive emergencies.

Laird Bell Law School Quadrangle (the Law School complex) is a large building with an important mission.  By benchmarking the building's energy use across campus and against similar buildings at peer institutions using tools from ENERGY STAR, the team identified it as an ideal candidate for the PM+Cx program. In partnership with the Law School, the team first performed functional performance tests to confirm and correct the operation of systems and components to their design standard (PM). Then these systems were tuned and optimized with advanced energy conservation measures implemented (Cx) in order to achieve the efficient operation that resulted in greenhouse gas emission reductions.  The Law School complex PM+Cx project was initiated in September 2017 and took 15 months to complete. 

The project brought together a team from across the campus.  With this support, University of Chicago Facilities Services building engineers Barry Hurt and Van Auduong used their technical expertise in partnership with University of Chicago Law School facility manager Dan Larson’s deep understanding of the program and staff requirements for space performance to prioritize and evaluate opportunities. The team identified and executed 12 system improvements that reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, reduced the risk of disruptions due to system failure and improved occupant comfort.   

One identified improvement allowed the team to adjust the operating schedules and thermostat setpoints for building air conditioning and heating equipment to be responsive to the changes in building use that happen over the course of the academic year. By creating temperature programs that adjust to differences in building intensity by academic quarter, the team improved occupant comfort and reduced electricity usage by six percent as seen in the graph below. 

The comprehensive PM+Cx project at the Law School complex is expected to achieve an annual reduction of 147 metric tons of greenhouse gasses. The actual performance data tracked in the University’s Energy Management Information System demonstrate a weather-corrected 13 percent reduction in overall energy use intensity since the project began in October 2017. This data system will continue to be used to both validate the energy efficiency model and ensure that building systems continue to perform. 

There are more than 122 buildings on the campus that were constructed between 1892 and 2018; these buildings provide various uses including office, classroom, auditorium, and clean-rooms. More than 200 energy efficiency measures have been completed in campus buildings since 2009, and buildings will continue to be the primary target in the University’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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