As the costs of natural gas and electricity continue to escalate, it is the smart building owner who uses money normally set aside to pay utility bills to fund the upgrade of aging facilities. After the 1970s energy crunch, this concept emerged in the form of "performance contracting." Today, however, a slightly different tack covers the situation: Total Retrofit Solutions (TRS).
Chemical Plant Finds Formula for Success in Strategic Partnership
Aging building systems at Uniroyal Chemical's technical sales and service center in Naugatuck, CT, no longer were providing the precisely controlled environment needed for the facility's sensitive functions. Inadequate equipment and controls were causing heat and humidity fluctuations that not only made occupants uncomfortable, but compromised the quality of Uniroyal's critical testing program.
Uniroyal began looking for a partner with whom to collaborate on infrastructure improvements and cost savings. They found the answer to their problems in Carrier's Strategic Partnerships Group.
"Upgrades clearly were needed. Their director of finance agreed it was time to take a holistic view of the building, and our strategic partnership team helped Uniroyal identify infrastructure upgrades that would go hand-in-hand with operational savings," says Ward Strosser, manager, Carrier Strategic Partnerships Group.
The facility now has two new screw chillers, state-of-the-art air distribution, and reliably regulated temperature and humidity. Carrier Comfort Network with ComfortWORKS™ allows real-time tracking of system performance and around-the-clock remote monitoring by linking the building to Carrier's National Response Center.
Electrical system upgrades, new piping, and variable-speed drives on the ventilating fans all contribute to the net annual energy and operating cost savings. In addition, a back-up compressed-air system provides assurances that support systems will continue to function and the building will remain operational.
"This project was exceptionally well done," says Fred Sells, director of operations, finance, and project management, for Uniroyal Chemical. "A number of suppliers drop the ball between the sale and the implementation. Carrier had a project manager, and their engineering team stayed involved. That provided excellent continuity."
Performance Contracting at a Glance
Performance contracting first was promoted by control-system providers who recognized the importance of reaching out to financial decision-makers at large-scale institutions, such as hospitals and schools. Budget constraints on the part of customers were resulting in an industry shift from new construction to retrofit and remodeling - if any facility changes were made at all. The idea behind performance contracting was to provide customers with a series of products that would result in energy savings; to seal the deal, contractors backed up their performance estimates with a check if energy savings were miscalculated.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, performance contracting was seen as the wave of the future, and large numbers of energy service companies (ESCOs) were formed to promote efficiency upgrades and share in the profits. However, in the wake of the most recent performance contracting wave, the reviews are mixed. Where engineering was well planned, financial hurdles were met. However, in some cases, engineering designs were not sound and caused project goals to fall short, or the financial goals were simply too high.
Another criticism, particularly in the engineering community, is that performance contracting is too focused on and confined by the upfront bidding process. This, in turn, limits design creativity and results in engineering compromises that are not necessarily in the best interest of the facility, its owner, and its tenants. For example, a strict performance contracting project may not look at the inclusion of products for indoor air quality or noise abatement that may improve the overall building environment, even at minimal cost, because they don't contribute directly to energy savings.
The TRS Advantage
As a result of these shortcomings, manufacturers such as Carrier and many engineering firms are looking at a more holistic approach to system retrofits - looking at multiple aspects of building operations and identifying how they work together. With a TRS approach, the goal remains to divert money normally spent on energy costs to fund equipment upgrades, but not at the expense of better facility performance. Where strict performance contracting projects generally are based on bottom-line dollars, a TRS project is based on engineering expertise and qualification. A TRS project also may not come with a financial guarantee. While guarantees have their advantage, they also may result in a larger price tag for the client because of the detailed monitoring and verification required.
Critical to the success of TRS projects is the role of the owner. Because the goal is to provide solutions, the owner must be part of the design team and play a strong role in the planning and decision-making stages. After all, who knows the inner workings of a facility better than an owner and the maintenance staff?
One of the customer's main responsibilities is to be as open and honest as possible with the design team by providing full access to the facility and by sharing all important data, such as fuel bills and energy costs. The more input available on the front end, the better the end result. And, the more accurate the data, the fewer assumptions that have to be made.
Forming a Strategic Partnership
TRS does more than just focus on high-payback items; rather, it is the building of a relationship with the owner to meet his or her facility needs and maintain a customer base. TRS is a collaborative process that may include offering financing alternatives to upfront cash outlay or just focus on the basics of facility operation. In the end, it's all about creating a shared vision for your bottom line by demonstrating that improvements can be made cost effectively and efficiently.
Automation Wins Big for Las Vegas Hotel and Casino
Imagine losing $10,000 an hour because your patrons are uncomfortable. Well, that was a very real possibility for the Fremont Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Cooling from the facility's aging heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system was inefficient at best - and, at worst, ineffective. In addition, the maintenance staff had to worry about escalating maintenance costs and possible system failure. However, under the direction of Carrier's Commercial Systems & Services business unit, team members developed a Total Retrofit Solution that not only improved operation but also slashed maintenance costs by 61 percent and reduced power consumption by 10 percent.
From the start, Carrier's technical experts were faced with several design challenges: a chilled-water system consisting of five chillers spread over three plants, equipment ranging in age from 15- to 46-years-old, no automation between components, and the use of ozone-depleting R-11 refrigerant. Because the existing system had been expanded over the years, no accurate plans existed of the piping and valve locations.
"There was no way to have a 100-percent understanding until we started," says Tony Derfoldi, manager of Carrier's Las Vegas branch office. "As we discovered more about the system, we had to make changes on the fly. This called for flexibility, as well as a solid relationship between Carrier and the Fremont."
To fix the situation, Carrier's first decision was to replace existing equipment with three high-efficiency 19XR Evergreen™ chillers, which use chlorine-free, non-ozone depleting R-134a refrigerant. Next, the existing constant-flow piping system was converted to a primary/secondary loop. Variable-frequency drives (VFDs) were used on the chiller pumps to create variable flow from the chillers - in effect, using them as building pumps. This engineering approach not only increased efficiency, particularly at part-load conditions, but also saved on design costs.
"By understanding our equipment and the application, we gained virtually all the efficiencies of a new primary/secondary system but with a very competitive first cost and minimal disruption to the hotel's operations," Derfoldi adds.
Automation was achieved through control valves, automatic equipment starts/stops, and additional VFDs on the cooling tower fans. Additional facility monitoring is managed with the Carrier Comfort Network™ and ComfortWORKS™ controls.
Phillip Megna is general manager, East Zone, Carrier Commercial Service. He is based in Boston and can be reached at 781-326-5600 or via e-mail at (email@example.com).
If winter heating prices weren't enough to send the nation into a frenzy, then California's electricity woes should complete the job. Experts have a dim view of the short- and long-term energy outlook, which includes Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham stating that the United States is facing its "most serious shortage" since the 1970s.