USF Sarasota-Manatee completes new Central Energy Plant, moves towards becoming LEED certified

An energy and cost saving Chiller Plant has been completed at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.  The Plant is USF Sarasota-Manatee’s most recent venture into becoming a “green” university.

The Central Energy Plant project involved upgrading the air-conditioning system from an air-cooled system similar to the ones found in most houses to a water-cooled and ice storage system designed for large facilities that consume most of their energy during the day.  The project, which was designed by Fawley-Bryant Architects and Engineering Matrix, Inc. based out of Lakewood Ranch and built by W.G. Mills, Inc. of Sarasota, began in August 2010 and was completed in April 2011.

The project supports the efforts of USF Sarasota-Manatee to achieve a prestigious Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certification for the campus facilities.

“As a university, we are prepared to show that we are good stewards in terms of energy and cost efficiencies,” said Richard Lyttle, director of Facilities Planning and Management at USF Sarasota-Manatee.  “This process is not only about protecting the environment, but about cutting costs in order to safeguard our academic programs, students, faculty and staff.”

The previous Central Energy Plant was only built for the 108,000 square foot building that USF Sarasota-Manatee currently occupies on North Tamiami Trail, not for the increased number of buildings and more than 150,000 square feet that the university plans to build in the future.  The enlarged Central Energy Plant provides adequate space to accommodate the equipment to support future campus growth.

Through proactive planning and implementation of numerous cost-savings measures, energy costs have dropped by more than 25% since the opening of the new campus in 2006, and the university believes that the new Central Energy Plant project will save the university another $100,000 a year by utilizing more efficient equipment and a thermal storage system to reduce operating costs.

“We’ve cut back significantly on energy use by changing our energy consumption habits,” said Lyttle.  “We use only high-efficiency fluorescent and LED lighting, placed occupant sensors for lighting and air-conditioning in classrooms, reduced operations of the major equipment at night and on weekends, and accomplished several other cost-saving measures, but the air conditioning system is still the largest energy cost we have.”

With the costs of energy continuing to rise and an increasing awareness of the advantages of sustainable design, thermal storage systems are being used with greater frequency by public and private-sector businesses due to the long-term savings and positive impact on the environment.  The project is funded from State of Florida PECO funds designated for infrastructure improvements and the Florida Power & Light Chiller Rebate Program, which provides incentives for companies that use high-efficiency air or water-cooled electric chillers.

“These systems are used by the Sarasota County School System, Florida Gulf Coast University, Nova Southeastern University, and many other large organizations looking to improve their operational efficiency,” Lyttle said.  “The thermal storage system will make ice during electrical low-cost, off-peak hours, and then use that ice to cool the university during high-cost peak hours of operation.  The air-cooled system will be used as a backup in case of emergency.”