USF Sarasota-Manatee goes “green” with new Central Energy Chiller Plant

Energy efficiencies are a big topic of interest at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and a new Chiller Plant with a thermal storage system is the most recent venture into becoming a “green” university.

USF’s efforts to “go green” have been recognized through inclusion in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges, and USF Sarasota-Manatee’s efforts to “go green” have led Regional Chancellor Dr. Arthur Guilford to search for ways to increase efficiencies at the local university.

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 Guilford believes that the new Central Energy Plant project could save the university another $100,000 a year by utilizing more efficient equipment and a thermal storage system to reduce operating costs.

The Central Energy Plant project, which is currently under construction and should be completed in March 2011, involves 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.

“We’ve cut back significantly on energy use by changing our energy consumption habits,” said Richard Lyttle, director of Facilities Planning and Management at USF Sarasota-Manatee.  “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.”

The current Central Energy Plant was also 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 will provide adequate space to accommodate the equipment to support future campus growth.

The project was designed by Fawley-Bryant Architects and Engineering Matrix, Inc., and is being built by W.G. Mills, Inc.

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.  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,” Lyttle said.

The project also 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 Lyttle.  “This process is not only about protecting the environment, but about cutting costs in order to safeguard our academic programs, students, faculty and staff.”