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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Mar/Apr 2007 : Case Study

Case Study: Turning the Corner Toward Sustainability
Canada's Lakehead University spent several years and millions of dollars to reduce its campus' energy consumption, guaranteeing a sustainable campus—and improving the learning environment.

by Brad Gallant


When it comes to commitment to energy conservation, Lakehead University is a model for North American public institutions. Faced with aging facilities and limited-capital restoration budgets, Thunder Bay, Ont.-based Lakehead University parlayed guaranteed energy savings into a vital source of campus renewal.

Over the course of a two-phase, $23.3-million energy-performance contract with Johnson Controls Inc.—which offers products and services that optimize energy use and improve comfort and security—Lakehead decreased its deferred maintenance liability by more than $20 million. This decrease was achieved through a reduction in electrical consumption on existing buildings by a dramatic 23 percent, and a cut in gas consumption by a stunning 43 percent. With its sleeping giant of deferred maintenance placated, Lakehead University will continue to make the effort to achieve a sustainable campus.

Lakehead University’s individual success should not diminish a vital fact that conservation is a collaborative effort. Peter Love, chief conservation officer for the province of Ontario, visited Lakehead in January with the purpose of recognizing the university’s energy-conservation achievements; namely, the reduction of electrical consumption by more than 10 percent on existing buildings twice since 2004. However, Love quickly realized that Lakehead University’s massive energy-efficiency effort was not done in a vacuum. He observed that while Lakehead is now at the vanguard of energy efficiency, the campus needed the support of an expert energy-efficiency partner capable of manifesting the university’s will into a financially feasible possibility—and to assist in this was Johnson Controls.

Steps Toward Sustainability

In 2002, when Michael Pawlowski became the new vice president of administration and finance at Lakehead University, he realized the status quo would no longer be acceptable. Physical plant officials had identified $44 million in needed infrastructure improvements, but the capital funds were not available. Dr. Frederick F. Gilbert, president of Lakehead University, recognized that Lakehead was “literally at risk, in terms of being able to maintain the work environment.”

At the top of the deferred maintenance list was the outdated and inefficient steam-powered central plant. Its 35-year-old chillers were near the breaking point, full of CFC-emitting R-11 refrigerant. Lakehead’s lighting systems were using original technology and configurations, demanding significantly more electricity than newer lighting systems. In an effort to renew this educational northern light, and to tackle its sleeping giant of deferred maintenance, Lakehead University enlisted the help of Johnson Controls to reinvigorate the 41-building campus environment.

Lakehead officials were impressed with the Johnson Controls method of collaboratively examining the university’s needs and developing a long-term solution. Together, they established a partnership to tackle $12.3 million of the deferred maintenance backlog. The initial project tackled two areas requiring immediate attention. First, Lakehead University chose to replace the steam-generation and distribution system with hot-water heating equipment in combination with a heat-recovery circuit and upgrading the chilled-water system. Second, high-priority HVAC measures in three campus buildings were implemented including lighting retrofits, improved occupancy controls, and the installation of variable speed drives and building automation to reduce the utility demand at each building.

Innovation was also a key driver of the project. For example, Lakehead University now uses fiberglass reinforced piping (FRP) within its HVAC tunnels to distribute its hot-water heating. The benefits of using FRP made the changeover from steam to hot-water heating economically feasible. While FRP is more expensive than conventional metal piping, it is lighter and could be easily transported through the tight spaces of the existing steam-distribution tunnels. FRP is also joined with glue; it is not welded. Had Lakehead chosen to use conventional metal pipe, then either an alternative piping route would have had to be prepared to install and weld the pipe, or the existing tunnels would have had to be extensively ventilated to exhaust welding gases. Either of these choices would have caused considerable disruption on campus, and reduced the economic viability of the project.

Eye-Opening Experience
James Podd, Lakehead’s physical plant director, said Johnson Controls’ comprehensive approach enabled the university to “look at things we normally wouldn’t do, or even consider,” such as completely decommissioning the central plant, while switching from steam heating to a highly efficient hot-water heating and distribution system. Standalone hot-water plants were installed in remote buildings where it made sense. The Phase I project also included replacing the university’s aging central plant chillers. In all, these improvements will generate minimum annual savings of $830,000, performance fully guaranteed by Johnson Controls.

The initial phase of work was completed in less than one year, at which point the University Board immediately gave the go-ahead for another $11 million worth of improvements. In Phase II, lighting systems were replaced and updated, and asbestos-abatement programs were conducted across the campus. When completed in June, Phase II will produce an additional $640,000 in annual energy savings, which Lakehead has earmarked for developing increased accessibility to its growing campus. Gilbert was keen to utilize savings generated from the second phase “to generate sufficient fiscal resources to put a new entrance into the university to develop the ring road for traffic circulation.” The new entrance and ring road have since been built and will be fully completed in the spring.

Lasting Financial and Environmental Benefits

The benefits of Lakehead University’s energy-efficiency program are far-reaching. Since beginning the project in June 2004, total measured savings are $1,643,761. The total savings guaranteed for that period was $862,000; therefore, achieved savings have exceeded the guarantee by $782,000, or nearly 91 percent. As Hugh Briggs, Lakehead University’s manager of energy systems, noted in May, while Johnson Controls has “met the savings guarantee, we have added five new buildings, and there is still a surplus in the utility budget at year-end. The measures are working.”

There are important environmental benefits that have accompanied the savings as well. After the completion of Phase II, Lakehead University will generate 5,600 fewer tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The 5,600-tonne reduction in GHG emissions represents a 17-percent decline from 2002 emissions, far ahead of the six-percent requirement of the Kyoto Accord. Asbestos insulation and fire proofing has been removed from several of the campus buildings, and the university’s new chillers are CFC-free.

Most importantly, Lakehead continues to be ahead of the energy-efficiency curve. While its peers act to meet the Ontario Conservation Bureau’s new “10 percent by 2007” demand-reduction challenge, Lakehead has achieved reductions on existing buildings of 13 percent in 2005 and an additional 11 percent in 2006.

When Love recognized Lakehead University’s achievements in January, the university did not see it as a conclusion of its efforts. Instead, the recognition is an acknowledgement of Lakehead’s leadership in its journey toward sustainable campuses—a journey that Lakehead envisioned taking in 2004 when it first began its energy-efficiency project. From the outset, Lakehead engaged Johnson Controls to provide full-time, on-site support through a long-term service agreement. Johnson Controls maintains a local presence in Thunder Bay through an authorized building services arrangement with Thermal Mechanical Systems, a reputable local contractor that will keep the new equipment operating in peak condition and allow Lakehead to sustain its hard-fought energy savings.

With the “sleeping giant” of deferred maintenance well under control, Lakehead University is now better positioned than ever to provide the best in education and scholarly research for Northwestern Ontario and beyond.

Gilbert is especially proud of the university’s accomplishments. “Years of significant underfunding, combined with our location away from the large urban centers of the south, have compelled us to be more efficient, more effective and more creative,” he said. “Lakehead’s motto, ‘Achievement Through Effort,’ reflects the essence of this drive and visionary spirit.”

Brad Gallant works for Johnson Controls covering Lakehead University and the Central Canadian higher-education market.


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