Teamwork Towards Energy Reductions

By Victoria Mills
From the September/October 2015 Issue

In June 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the City of Chicago, through its Retrofit Chicago program, would join the Obama Administration’s Better Buildings Challenge. He called on local business owners to pledge to reduce their energy use by 20% in a five year period. Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative is a voluntary program aimed at reducing energy use in commercial buildings. Since its launch, 50 buildings city-wide have joined the program, encompassing more than 35 million square feet.

(Photo: EDF Climate Corps)

Recent participants in Retrofit Chicago include the teams at 77 West Wacker, a JLL managed property, and Urban Innovations, operator of 11 Class B Chicago buildings. They both stepped up to the Mayor’s call in 2014, and have already determined ways to reduce their energy usage by nearly three million kilowatt hours. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) contributed to this success by embedding EDF Climate Corps fellows in both organizations to identify, plan, and implement their energy reduction programs.

Because JLL and Urban Innovations manage very different types of buildings (see sidebar on opposite page), their journeys to become leaders in energy efficiency were different, but they were motivated by the same goal: make sustainability a competitive advantage by saving money and appealing to tenants.

77 West Wacker: Model for Energy Management

77 West Wacker Street is a typical Class A building in downtown Chicago. The iconic building has 50 floors and supports more than 16 businesses in more than 950,000 square feet of rentable space.

When the building was constructed in 1992, electricity was cheap, the architecture incorporated a lot of glass, and the news of the day was about “sick building syndrome,” which blamed flaws in heating, cooling, and ventilation systems for maladies in the building’s occupants. As a result, the building wasn’t as energy efficient, cost-effective, or environmentally friendly as it could have been.

In 2004, Myrna Coronado-Brookover, JLL’s senior vice president and general manager in charge of 77 West Wacker, reviewed her energy costs and realized they were the second largest expense in the building’s budget. She knew she had to create a team effort to tackle energy efficiency. So, at a meeting shortly thereafter, she shared her energy contract and the electric bills with Tony Marzano, JLL’s chief engineer for the building, whose team already had some ideas for efficiency improvements.

Definition Of Class A
And Class B Buildings

The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International classifies commercial real estate into several classes for clarity purposes.

A Class A building is defined by its prestige, competition for premier tenants, and rents above average for the area. Buildings have high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility, and a definite market presence.

Class B buildings compete for a wide range of users with rents in the average range for the area. Building finishes are fair to good for the area, and systems are adequate, but the building does not compete with Class A at the same price.

Both the business and engineering sides of the house shared a common goal: reduce energy use while increasing the building’s competitiveness in the Class A commercial real estate market. Together, Coronado-Brookover and Marzano planned an aggressive strategy for 77 West Wacker to achieve Energy Star, LEED EBOM Gold, BOMA 360 designation, and become one of the most energy efficient Class A buildings in the country.

The teams focused on education, data, and automation.

Marzano needed to understand the building’s energy use, and the electric bills Coronado-Brookover supplied didn’t provide relevant information about how energy was being used. So Marzano digitized the building’s 28 electric meters, and pulled the nine highest consuming meters into a GridConnect dashboard, an integrated demand-side management platform. By monitoring real-time energy consumption, Marzano’s team could immediately optimize the energy use to when prices were more favorable.

Next, Marzano and his team collected carbon dioxide (CO2) information by installing sensors. For Class A buildings built in the 1990s, the standard operating procedure was to call for elevated outside ventilation, which costs more to heat or cool a building depending on the time of the year. By adjusting 77 West Wacker’s ventilation systems to current CO2 exposure standards (1,000 parts per million), Marzano saved energy (and money) because he could bring less outside air into the building.

Like all Class A buildings, efficiently managing data for real-time adjustments falls on the building’s automation system. So, to maximize savings, Marzano customized the automation system based on what the data told them. For example, the team adjusted the programming so that the building was not actively heating and cooling simultaneously. They also implemented a global heat disable function, which turns off resistive heat coils on fan power boxes with a single command. And, they automated a pre-cooling and night purge control sequence that eliminated daytime electric demand spikes.

EDF Climate Corps Program Conducts Eighth Year

Eight years ago, the first “hosts” and “fellows” of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps were matched in an experiment—partnering top graduate students with organizations eager to improve energy management for which they had limited internal resources. It was a new idea, but it drew on EDF’s decades of experience working with companies to find pragmatic, market-based solutions to environmental challenges.

As a result of its early and growing success, EDF Climate Corps has scaled this model, now embedding hundreds of fellows in diverse organizations every summer across the U.S. and in China. These fellows are part of a network working directly with leading companies and public sector organizations to elevate energy management to a strategic business priority.

Since 2008, EDF Climate Corps fellows have identified nearly $1.4 billion in energy savings for host organizations, with the potential to reduce climate pollution by over 1.8 million metric tons per year. Over 300 organizations have participated, including Apple, Facebook, Google, AT&T, General Motors, the U.S. Army, the Housing Authority of Los Angeles, J.P. Morgan Chase, Staples, and Verizon.

EDF Climate Corps fellows are selected from top graduate programs at U.S. colleges and universities through a competitive process based on academic background, professional experience, and relevant skills. In 2014, 700 students applied, and 117 were accepted. EDF Climate Corps fellows have worked on a wide range of energy management projects including: energy efficiency; data analysis and energy information systems; employee engagement; funding mechanisms; and demand response.

Commercial real estate firms JLL and Urban Innovations, in their quest for energy improvement, each hosted EDF Climate Corps fellows to provide support for energy management initiatives (see main article). For JLL and Urban Innovations, their EDF Climate Corps fellows provided cost-effective resources to evaluate and implement projects. The move also facilitated the firms joining Retrofit Chicago, a voluntary program in which the buildings pledge to reduce commercial energy use by 20% in five years.

Through the Climate Corps program, EDF is building a network of climate and energy leaders, driving scalable solutions for a clean energy economy.

In all, the 77 West Wacker team decreased its electrical expenses by 47%, dropping from $1.3 million in 2009 to $686,000 in 2012. Still, they knew there was more that could be done.

A key obstacle for any Class A building engineer is having enough time, resources, and expertise to collect and analyze data. This is where EDF’s Climate Corps program was able to provide hands-on help (see sidebar on page 48 for more on this program). EDF embedded graduate student Karan Gupta to work at 77 West Wacker during the summer of 2014. Through his analysis, the team was able to identify an energy reduction goal of five million kilowatt hours by 2018, on top of the work they had already done. Gupta also helped get them started by uncovering opportunities to reduce two million kilowatt hours and outlining ways to enhance their demand response program—that is, the ability to change demand for power during periods of severe supply constraints and/or extreme spot market prices for electricity.

At the end of 2012, 77 West Wacker had a record high Energy Star rating of 91 and was holding steady on energy expenses. With the help of EDF Climate Corps, the building continued to find opportunities to become more efficient, take advantage of demand response programs, and dive deeper into real-time data and automation.

Throughout their energy efficiency journey, Coronado-Brookover and Marzano educated themselves about their energy costs, contracts, and how to make their existing systems work more efficiently. And their tenants are learning as well. In 2014, with the help of EDF Climate Corps’ Gupta, 77 West Wacker began investing in tenant education and engagement around energy use.

Urban Innovations: Finding Savings

Like many Class B building owners, Urban Innovations was focused on serving its tenants and attracting new companies. Urban Innovations had 11 Chicago buildings in its portfolio, all of which were at different points in their lifecycle. Some were ready for a complete recommissioning; others were going through the normal cycles of maintenance.

When Alfrieda Green, vice president of property management, thought about sustainability, she had some concerns: upfront costs, additional operations and maintenance work, and an unpredictable return on investment.

But after Green attended an industry conference in 2008, followed by additional seminars and individual research, she realized many of the practices adopted by Class A building owners were well within reach. It was clear that energy efficiency would make its buildings more competitive in the Chicago landscape, and she knew that by addressing energy management in her buildings, she could show operational and physical benefits.

Urban Innovations’ senior project manager, Tony Lindsay, was in charge of new projects and construction and also had sustainability on his mind. While Green was the proponent of efficiency for competitiveness, Lindsay was spearheading the choices that Urban Innovations made for products, equipment, and materials.

Their approach to energy management was made on a building by building basis.

Urban Innovations’ building at 222 West Hubbard was built in 1905. The four story property was being used for light industrial use. When the major tenant moved out, the Urban Innovations team decided to do a complete redevelopment of the space. They removed almost every system and redesigned the building for office space. In the redevelopment, they created a means of shifting controllability of energy use to the tenants. They did this by designing smaller systems to serve each space, instead of having one large system. Also, every space was given its own air handler and rooftop unit.

By comparison, the building at 325 West Huron became more energy efficient through the team’s strategic choices made during regular maintenance and equipment turnover. For example, 325 West Huron was an Energy Star certified building with a steam boiler that was more than 100 years old. The giant steam boiler (usually a red flag) wasn’t even on the radar for replacement. Through regular maintenance, Jason Szczur, Urban Innovations’ chief engineer, made the boiler an energy efficiency asset rather than a barrier. By putting in new igniters, tubes, heating elements, and insulation, he improved the overall energy efficiency of the building.

In addition to regular maintenance and repairs at 325 West Huron, the team at 325 West Huron has improved the efficiency of the cooling tower, and regularly replaces the heat pumps in each of the tenant spaces. Also, new modulating control valves were put on all the tenant steam radiators—an $80 valve that impacts the overall bottom line by modulating to the room temperature and optimizing energy use.

Of Urban Innovations’ 11 properties in Chicago, six are Energy Star certified, and four are within close reach. The firm’s portfolio also scores 27% better than the Energy Star national median source energy use intensity (EUI), meaning their sites require nearly 30% less total energy to operate than the national average for similar buildings.

In 2014, Urban Innovations partnered with EDF Climate Corps to help improve processes and embed energy efficiency into its standard operations. EDF Climate Corps fellow Michael Perry worked closely with Lindsay and Szczur to identify the most energy efficient opportunities for new equipment as well as replacement parts and equipment.

Perry also developed an Excel based tool that identified applicable rebate information and calculated cost savings from upgrading to more energy efficient systems and equipment. Through the use of this tool, Urban Innovations identified annual reductions of nearly one million kilowatt hours in electricity usage, more than $70,000 in annual cost-savings, over $72,000 in immediate rebates, and over 846 metric tons in greenhouse gas reductions. As a hands-on resource, Perry helped Urban Innovations navigate through demand response markets and drive organizational sustainability efforts.

Urban Innovations will continue partnering with EDF Climate Corps to use the capital planning tool on an annual basis to prompt them to look at the larger equipment units and choose the most efficient, cost-effective replacements, making better front-end decisions for long-term performance.

Impact In The Windy City

The 2015 class of EDF Climate Corps fellows worked with eight Chicago firms—including Transwestern, Zeller Realty, and Glenstar Asset Management—that operate more than 30 buildings in the city. As Chicago continues to be an example of municipal leadership in energy and sustainability, these building operators are doing their part to meet the city’s goals.

Environmental-Defense-FundMills is managing director of Environmental Defense Fund’s Corporate Partnerships program, and leads EDF Climate Corps.

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